Panel of Experts Meet at Windsor Law to Discuss Accessibility in Autonomous Vehicle Design & Policy

Pani Sarkis
LTEC Lab Student Writer
J.D. Candidate 2019

 

On February 14th, Windsor Law’s LTEC Lab brought together experts in autonomous vehicle technology and regulation, disability rights scholars and representatives, and transit policy planners to have a panel discussion and roundtable discussion on these issues. The main goal of this event was to set out a research and planning agenda for the Windsor-Essex region so that the city can integrate autonomous vehicles into accessible city transit policies. The event was organized under the leadership and vision of Windsor Law Professors Laverne Jacobs and Kristen Thomasen.

 

The first session was a panel discussion in a full Moot Court room at Windsor Law. Kristen Thomasen, who is an Assistant Professor at Windsor Law, laid the foundation for the discussion. She stated that the main questions are: How will we reach this accessible outcome? What metrics will we use to determine success? Along the way, questions of privacy trade-offs will arise. Windsor Law Associate Professor Laverne Jacobs spoke about the various transportation challenges that people with disabilities face, as well as the meaning of accessibility in the context of transportation. She offered some recommendations to policy makers, which included ongoing consultation with people who are disabled and using a care-centred framework in the design and regulation of autonomous vehicles. Krzysztof Czarnecki, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Waterloo, provided insight into the development of autonomous vehicles. His main concern was an ethical one. He stated that in order to have enough data to reliably and consistently improve traffic safety, autonomous vehicles need to be deployed on public roads. However, the early stages of deployment on public roads will likely result in some accidents that human drivers could have avoided. Therefore, he is focused on finding the best way to navigate this. Fahad Khan, who is the Project Lead of Automated and Autonomous Vehicles of the City of Toronto’s Transportation Services Division spoke about the City of Toronto’s accessibility plan as it relates to autonomous vehicles.

 

After a Q&A session and a break, the panelists and other invitees from the broader Windsor community gathered in the University of Windsor Welcome Centre to engage in an invite only workshop discussion on these issues. There were representatives from municipalities considering the implementation of this technology into their accessible transit policies, engineering professors working at the forefront of research and development of autonomous vehicles, representatives who work with organizations that support people who are disabled, as well as legal experts.

 

The focus of the workshop discussion was to determine ways in which the promise of better transit accessibility for people with disabilities can be achieved through both autonomous vehicle design and policy. There were a few takeaways from the workshop discussion that the group hopes to build on. For example, the current transit system is inadequate for people with disabilities. Autonomous vehicle technology seems to hold promise for increasing mobility in this area. However, autonomous vehicle designers are generally not thinking about accessibility issues while developing this technology. As a result, legislation can play an important role. Provincial regulations can incorporate accessibility considerations and ongoing consultation with people who are disabled. Municipalities can create bylaws and design roads that affect how people interact with autonomous vehicles. Municipalities can also have a vision for how they want their city to look from an accessibility standpoint, and use autonomous vehicle technology to aid in the realization of that vision.

 

Discussions such as these are an important first step toward an accessible future. While autonomous vehicles are seen as a technology that will increase traffic safety and mobility, policy makers and manufacturers ought to take this opportunity to thoughtfully consider accessibility implications prior to the mass deployment of these vehicles on public roads.

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