Automated and connected vehicles 101

Automated and connected vehicles could radically change our transportation system. Learn about automated and connected vehicles, and why we are supporting their safe testing and deployment in Canada.  

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What is an automated vehicle?

An automated vehicle uses a combination of sensors, controllers and onboard computers, along with sophisticated software, allowing the vehicle to control at least some driving functions, instead of a human driver (for example, steering, braking and acceleration, and checking and monitoring the driving environment).

Today, many vehicles on our roads have low-level automation features to help with certain driving tasks. Using these features still requires careful attention and involvement from the driver.

Testing of highly automated vehicles, where the vehicle does most or all of the driving task, is happening today in various locations in Canada and around the world.

What is a connected vehicle?

Connected vehicles use different types of wireless communications technologies to communicate with their surroundings. Although the types of incorporated technologies vary from vehicle to vehicle, most new vehicles sold today have some form of connectivity features in them.

Depending on the features it has installed, a connected vehicle may be able to communicate with:

  • its occupants
  • other vehicles and road users
  • the surrounding transportation infrastructure, such as roadways and traffic lights
  • Internet-based applications

There are many practical applications for connected vehicle technologies. These can provide information and convenience functions for the vehicle's occupants, such as roadside assistance, and help to diagnose vehicle problems. Different connectivity features may also support navigation, and provide recommendations for restaurants or nearby attractions, as well as entertainment.

Other connectivity technologies that are under development and are gradually entering the market today may also help to improve the efficiency and safety of the transportation system. This includes vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) technologies that can alert drivers of upcoming hazards or provide other useful information. Some examples of practical uses for these technologies could include providing warnings about icy road conditions or a traffic accident ahead, alerting a driver when the vehicle in front brakes suddenly, or notifying drivers when a traffic light is about to turn red.

In the future, it is possible that connected vehicle technologies may eventually support and complement automated vehicle technologies, by allowing automated vehicles to coordinate their movements more efficiently on the road and improve overall traffic flows.

Levels of vehicle automation

SAE International, a technical standards organization, has defined 6 levels of vehicle automation, ranging from 0 to 5. These levels are used by governments and industry around the world to describe different automation capabilities.

The diagram below shows what each level means for you as a driver.

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Levels of driving automation

Level 0

No automation: The human driver performs all aspects of the driving task

Level 1

Driver assistance: The vehicle's driver assistance features support the driver with either steering or acceleration/deceleration under specific conditions. The human driver is expected to perform all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving tasks, including monitoring and responding to the driving environment.

Level 2

Partial automation: The vehicle's driver assistance features support the driver with both steering and acceleration/deceleration under specific conditions. The human driver is still expected to perform all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving tasks, including monitoring and responding to the driving environment.

Level 3

Conditional automation: The vehicle's automated driving system (ADS) features perform all aspects of the dynamic driving task, including monitoring and responding to the driving environment, under specific conditions. The human driver must be alert and ready to perform the dynamic driving task when the system requests the human driver to intervene.

Level 4

High automation: The ADS-equipped vehicle performs all aspects of the dynamic driving task, including monitoring and responding to the driving environment, under specific conditions. The vehicle is designed to respond safely without human action to all situations, including when it reaches the limits of its operating environment.

Level 5

Full automation: The ADS-equipped vehicle performs all aspects of the dynamic driving task, including monitoring and responding to the driving environment, in all conditions.

Vehicles you can currently purchase in Canada have automation ranging from levels 0 to 2. Testing of automated vehicle technologies at levels 3 and 4 is underway in many countries, including Canada.

Find out how we are ensuring automated and connected vehicle safety

Find out about testing and research happening in Canada

Automation technologies available today

Many of today's vehicles already have driver assistance features that incorporate low levels of automation. This includes technologies such as:

  • adaptive cruise control
  • lane keeping assist
  • automatic emergency braking

It is important to know that these technologies only assist the driver with some parts of the driving task. When using these features, the human driver is still responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle and must stay alert and engaged in the driving task at all times.

In addition, these features:

  • can only be used in specific situations
  • may not work well (or at all) in weather conditions such as rain and snow, and in certain roadway infrastructure such as tunnels

See a list of current driver assistance technologies

Benefits to Canadians

We support the safe testing and development of automated and connected vehicles because we believe they could significantly benefit the Canadian public. Here are some of the potential benefits:  

Improved safety

According to data from Transport Canada's National Collision Database, driver behaviour was a contributing factor in approximately 86% of collisions causing death and injury in Canada.

Automated and connected vehicle technologies available on the market today could help to reduce the number and severity of crashes in Canada by:

  • providing drivers with early hazard warnings
  • initiating emergency braking when they detect hazards
  • helping human drivers make better decisions on the road

As vehicles with higher levels of automation and greater connectivity features become available, it is hoped that these technologies will help to drastically reduce vehicle collisions and enhance the safety of all Canadian road users.

Increased accessibility

Automated vehicles have the potential to enhance the mobility of all Canadians, and in particular for those that may be underserved by existing road transportation options, including:

  • seniors
  • people with disabilities
  • rural populations
  • low-income families

These technologies could also give Canadians greater access to transportation services, including:

  • first and last mile public transit, meaning getting to/from the bus, metro, and rail stations
  • better logistics and delivery services

Environmental benefits

It is possible that automated and connected vehicles, along with transportation planning and associated environmental policies, could help by reducing traffic congestion and in turn decreasing fuel consumption and emissions.

We will work closely with provinces and territories, municipalities, industry and other stakeholders to examine the potential environmental benefits of these technologies.

New and innovative economic opportunities

Automated and connected vehicles could have significant economic benefits. They could help us avoid costly accidents, save fuel costs, increase productivity and create new jobs for Canadians.

Their production could also have a positive impact on various sectors of the Canadian economy, including:

  • transportation services
  • automotive manufacturing
  • digital technology
  • mining
  • farming
  • forestry
  • other sectors that rely on efficient road transportation for the delivery of goods, materials and services

The future of automated and connected vehicles in Canada

Researchers and developers are currently testing vehicles that aim to achieve higher levels of automation (levels 3 to 5). Canada's federal, provincial and territorial governments are also actively supporting the development and testing of these technologies. However, many experts believe that it will take years, maybe decades, before fully automated vehicles are widely used by Canadians in their everyday lives.

Developers still need to resolve many technical challenges. Driving is a complex task. Before there are fully automated transportation options, automated vehicles will need to:

  • Improve their ability to interpret their environments and make safe driving decisions
  • Be able to anticipate the actions of other road users
  • Overcome challenges like construction zones and unmarked or snow-covered roads

Updates to infrastructure on public roads (for example, signs and connectivity infrastructure) so automated and connected vehicles can safely navigate will also need to be explored.

Learn about automated and connected vehicle testing and research happening now

Automated and Connected Vehicles Policy Framework for Canada

The Automated and Connected Vehicles Policy Framework for Canada affirms that the safety of Canadians is a top priority for testing and deploying these vehicles. The framework will help us advance shared objectives and strengthen partnerships between governments, industry and academia, as we:

  • promote, test and invest in these technologies
  • achieve a safer, more efficient and innovative transportation system

The Council of Ministers of Transportation and Highway Safety, which is made up of transport ministers from each of the federal, provincial and territorial governments, endorsed this policy framework in January 2019.

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