The government-appointed overseer of strategy for autonomous vehicles, Anne-Marie Idrac, a former transport minister and head of the state railway SNCF, briefed The Connexion on technology updates, which will probably affect every driver in the next decade.
She was appointed by President Macron when the government decided that autonomous vehicles will form a key part of its policy to boost industries of the future.
Transport policy, digital security and road safety are closely linked with the development of self-driving vehicles.
“Parliament has voted through the necessary laws to allow (autonomous vehicles) on the roads in real conditions from 2020 to 2022, as soon as the technologies reach high enough standards to allow it,” said Ms Idrac.
“The first will undoubtedly be shared or collective vehicles.”
For a while it looked as though France was lagging behind the United States, where companies including Uber and Google, started running tests of autonomous vehicles on public roads.
At least one death has occurred – when a car in autonomous driving mode did not react to a pedestrian crossing the road.
In France, Peugeot has been carrying out tests on public roads around Paris of “self-driving” cars, getting special permits for each test.
A fake village, covering 80 hectares and costing €18 million, baptised Transpolis, is also being built on a former military base in the commune of Saint-Maurice-de-Rémens in the Ain department for tests, with Renault Trucks being one of the backers.
It will have sections of autoroute, small roads, cross roads and narrow town streets.
The leader in the field is the little-known, Lyon-based Navya, which makes self-driving shuttle buses for campuses and airports, which use pre-defined tracks.
Its shareholders include transport company Keolis and car-parts maker Valeo. But it gave a profit warning in July, warning that sales had fallen 32% to €6.1 million in the first six months of the year.
Ms Idrac (pictured left) said that France was present in two other areas as well as the shuttles – individual self-driving cars from Peugeot, Citroën and Renault, and selling-related technology.
She said that 20 French towns and cities are to be part of the experimental process, when technology has reached the necessary safety levels.
Anyone renting or buying a self-driving vehicle will have to have special training to guarantee their safety and the safety of others.
As for the question of who will be responsible if accidents take place involving an autonomous vehicle, Ms Idrac said the same regime for civil responsibility as exists now, will be in place.
Anyone hiring or owning an autonomous vehicle will have to be insured, in the same way as anyone owning or hiring an ordinary motor car is now insured.
For criminal responsibility, she said a new law had been passed, which will allow investigators to determine if the vehicle was under autonomous control or manual control at the time of the accident.
If it was autonomous, the vehicle manufacturer will be liable.
Owners of French transport companies have complained to the government that they have difficulty recruiting young lorry drivers, due to the belief that autonomous vehicles will do them out of a job.
Ms Idrac said the work being carried out on using autonomous vehicles for freight, will only come to fruition in the medium term.
“At the moment everything is pointing to it being used first for in-depot logistics or urban deliveries,” she said.
Where you’ll be sharing road with self-driving vehicles
Some towns and regions of France have pushed themselves to the forefront of experiments with self-driving vehicles, which could be on the road from next year. If you live in these areas, you might find yourself sharing the road with some early models.
For individual cars, tests will take place in: Ile-de-France region and the towns of: Carquefou in Loire-Atlantique; Rouen; and Bobigny to the north-east of Paris (where car-parts maker Valeo has its headquarters).
Self-driving shuttle buses will be tested in: Sophia Antipolis, near Nice; Nantes; the CDC of Coeur de Brenne in Indre department; Paris’ fifth arrondissement; Vincennes, near Paris; Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse, near Paris; Rouen; Vichy; Rennes; Toulouse; Saclay, near Paris; Lyon; Nevers; Bouguenais, near Nantes; Vénissieux, near Lyon; Gap and Vélizy, near Paris.
Tests of self-driving lorries and other logistics equipment will take place in Montpellier.