Canada needs leadership in planning for self-driving cars

Canada needs leadership in planning for self-driving cars
Posted on May 16, 2013 | Barrie Kirk | Written on May 16, 2013
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Author's Note:

Author's Note:

Open letter to the Prime Minister of Canada.

Dear Prime Minister,

I am shocked that no Canadian government, federal, provincial, or municipal, is investigating the launch of autonomous vehicles and planning for the huge impacts on our cities, transportation, public transit, government and businesses. Compared to other countries, Canada is a backwater when it comes to planning for the introduction of self-driving cars. Canada needs some leadership in this area and I urge you to provide that leadership now.

Let me review some of the activities in other countries:

United Sates:

  • The Senate held a hearing on the technology and its impacts on May 15, 2013.
  • The Department of Transport has started to investigate the same topics.
  • Laws permitting testing of autonomous vehicles have been passed in Nevada, Florida, California, and Washington D.C.
  • 13 other US States have similar bills in process.
  • Bill Ford, the Executive Chairman of Ford, has said "cars will soon drive themselves and will all happen sooner than you might guess.".
  • The Earth Institute of Columbia University has published an important report on the huge impact of autonomous vehicles on public transit.


  • A number of governments have enacted laws related to autonomous vehicles.
  • The Sunday Times reports that the U.K. is about to change the law to allow testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads.
  • A recent editorial in the The Telegraph said that autonomous vehicles will trigger a burst of economic growth, transform transport around the world, including in Britain, free vast amounts of time, increase productivity, make us a lot wealthier and unleash drastic, unpredictable economic and cultural changes."
  • A recent newsletter published by Lloyds had an article on driverless cars that ended with the following: "The [insurance] market needs to monitor driverless cars and these new technologies – and their associated risks – as they evolve during the next few years. Completely ignoring this scenario is not a good option."


  • Hitachi has commercially launched a low-speed, single-seat autonomous car for seniors and the handicapped. (Canadian universities and businesses have the skills and resources to have developed this -- why didn't we?)

Car manufacturers:

  • GM, Volvo, Nissan, BMW, etc. say their first fully-autonomous cars will be launched in 2020.
  • Google is expected to have its self-driving car technology in the public's hands even sooner.
  • Cadillac has started testing a semi-autonomous car that will be launched even earlier than that.

There are very many benefits, as well as some issues. Planning for autonomous vehicles will take time and will involve many different federal departments, as well as provincial and municipal governments. Leadership needs to come from the top, as it has in the US and the UK. I urge you to provide that leadership and start now the process of planning for the huge impacts on our cities, transportation, public transit, government and businesses.

Yours sincerely,

Barrie Kirk, P.Eng.
Paul Godsmark

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