New Legislation Allows Driverless Cars on Ontario Roads

New updates to Ontario’s automated vehicle pilot program now allow several companies to step into the driver’s seat—so to speak—when it comes to testing the next generation of driverless cars.

Ontario’s Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek announced changes to the program at the Sedra Student Design Centre at the University of Waterloo earlier this week, allowing some automated vehicles to hit the road with just one passenger on board or a remote operator monitoring operations. Up until now, Ontario forced automated test vehicles to have someone sitting in the driver’s seat during the testing process. The original pilot program featured nine participants, including BlackBerry’s QNX, Magna, Uber and the University of Waterloo, so expect to see these organizations taking advantage of the new rules.

“We’ve done autonomous driving without a human in the driver’s seat on a test track, and now, we’re able to take that forward to the next step of progress with public road testing,” said Ross McKenzie, the managing director of the Waterloo Centre for Automotive Research (WatCAR).

Another update to the automated vehicle pilot program will allow researchers to test “platooning,” which is when trucks travel together using support systems and communication between one another. Beyond that, Ontario will also allow cars with higher levels of automation to be driven on the roads once they are eligible to be purchased in Canada.

If a car is equipped with Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International Level 3 technology, it will be able to drive on Ontario roads. Currently, cars with this tech are not eligible for purchase due to federal government restrictions, but once those are lifted, any citizen in Ontario can purchase one, even if they are not in the automated vehicle pilot program. Cars with this tech have been made available for purchase in certain parts of Europe already.

Level 3 driving is defined by cars being able to control all monitoring of the environment, and through the human driver’s attention is still critical, the car itself can initiate functions such as braking. The highest level is 5, in which a steering wheel is no longer needed—the car simply handles all aspects of driving, parking, and movement itself.

Just over a month ago, Uber restarted the testing of automated cars on Toronto roads. The ride-sharing company’s test cars have a monitor sitting in the driver’s seat, so they were following the pre-existing rules, but now Uber will likely look to take advantage of the new rules to launch updated automated tests on Toronto streets.