Orange County Branch Newsletter

September 2016

Branch News

Autonomous Vehicles

By Joe Gonzalez, P.E., Chandler Holmes

ASCE Orange County held its July lunch event at the Center Club in Costa Mesa.  We were fortunate to have Ryan Snyder talk to us about reinvention of current modes transportation. Autonomous vehicles are vehicles capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input. Autonomous cars can detect surroundings such as pedestrians, bicyclists, and move out of the way of busses using a variety of techniques such as radarLIDARGPS, odometers, and computer. Autonomous vehicles are looking to be a game changer by changing the way we live.

There are four levels for autonomous technology:

  • Level 1: Function-Specific - Drivers are in full control and individual vehicle controls are automated, such as cruise control or automatic braking.

  • Level 2: Combined Control -  At least two controls can be automated in unison, for example the driver may take his or her hands off the steering wheel and foot off the pedals at the same time, but the driver remains fully responsible for the same operation and must resume control when needed.

  • Level 3: Limited Self-Driving - The driver can fully cede control of all safety-critical functions in certain conditions. The car senses when conditions require the driver to retake control and provides a transition time for the driver to do so. Drivers are not responsible to monitor the roadway.

  • Level 4: Full Self-Driving - The vehicle performs all safety-critical functions for the entire trip, with the driver not expected to control the vehicle at any time. As this vehicle would control all functions from start to stop, including all parking functions. The human need only to provide destination information.

Recently there was a conference in San Francisco conference to discuss when the autonomous vehicle will be released. Numerous major companies and research organizations have developed working prototype autonomous vehicles. Car manufacturers, such as BMW, Audi, GM, and Nissan currently predict that autonomous vehicles will be on the road by 2020, and google predicts to have level 4 technology by 2017. In about six to eight years these cars will become more available.

There are many potential benefits of produced by autonomous cars, such as:

  • Reduction of traffic collisions, injury, and death-35,000 people are killed per year due to automobiles as a result of human driver error such as delayed reaction time, tailgating, and other forms of distracted it aggressive driving.

  • Minimize traffic congestion- due to the distance between cars being significantly reduced, speed limits increasing (because the driver-less vehicles' reaction time would be very little compared to humans), vehicle communication technology along with driver-less technology can reduce delays at signalized and non- signalized intersections by reducing the imperfect signal cycle timing and also by using an optimized flow system where the car can go around in an intersection.

  • Reduce Pollution- The Intelligent Transportation Society of America projects that autonomous vehicle transportation could achieve a 2 to 4 percent reduction in oil consumption and related greenhouse gas emissions each year over the next 10 years as these technologies become more available.


Along with the various benefits provided by autonomous vehicles, the foreseeable drawbacks include:

  • Loss of driving-related jobs/ Resistance from professional drivers and unions who perceive possible job losses.
  • Implementation of legal framework and establishment of government regulations for autonomous vehicles, such as the DMV code stating that “cars must be manned”
  • Liability/ insurance issues- is liability placed on manufacturer of device and/or software driving the vehicle?

In conclusion, autonomous vehicles have many benefits, and the early development of policies should increase the use of autonomous technology and ensure beneficial outcomes. It is important to change the current mindset of autonomous vehicle technology. Below are some current trending models that use this technology.

For more information on the ideas shared in this paper, contact Ryan Snyder @ Transpo Group at  

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