CausalAF: Causal Autoregressive Flow for Safety-Critical Driving Scenario Generation

Wenhao Ding, Haohong Lin, Bo Li, Ding Zhao

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Generating safety-critical scenarios, which are crucial yet difficult to collect, provides an effective way to evaluate the robustness of autonomous driving systems. However, the diversity of scenarios and efficiency of generation methods are heavily restricted by the rareness and structure of safety-critical scenarios. Therefore, existing generative models that only estimate distributions from observational data are not satisfying to solve this problem. In this paper, we integrate causality as a prior into the scenario generation and propose a flow-based generative framework, Causal Autoregressive Flow (CausalAF). CausalAF encourages the generative model to uncover and follow the causal relationship among generated objects via novel causal masking operations instead of searching the sample only from observational data. By learning the cause-and-effect mechanism of how the generated scenario causes risk situations rather than just learning correlations from data, CausalAF significantly improves learning efficiency. Extensive experiments on three heterogeneous traffic scenarios illustrate that CausalAF requires much fewer optimization resources to effectively generate safety-critical scenarios. We also show that using generated scenarios as additional training samples empirically improves the robustness of autonomous driving algorithms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)812-823
Number of pages12
JournalProceedings of Machine Learning Research
StatePublished - 2023
Event6th Conference on Robot Learning, CoRL 2022 - Auckland, New Zealand
Duration: Dec 14 2022Dec 18 2022


  • Autonomous Driving
  • Causal Generative Models
  • Scenario Generation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Software
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Statistics and Probability


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