Traffic Safety

The death of a pedestrian in an Arizona incident involving an Uber self-driving vehicle this week is prompting a renewed examination of autonomous vehicle research and regulation. But it’s far from the only story that finds ride-hailing companies at the center these days. The impacts of services like Uber and Lyft on urban congestion, public transit, the taxi and parking industries, data sharing, access to health care services and trucking are also receiving scrutiny. All of these could have significant implications for policymakers in the years ahead.

If the first couple of months of 2018 are any indication, states are still anxious to make sure they get a piece of the action as the development and deployment of driverless cars proceed in the years ahead. I have updates on new executive orders in Arizona and Ohio, newly approved regulations in California, legislation under consideration in Indiana and Nebraska and a newly formed advisory council in Minnesota, among other state developments around the country. Also, updates on federal guidance on autonomous vehicles and the status of federal legislation. Plus, a plethora of links to articles on the latest industry and technology developments, shifting public opinion on autonomous vehicles and how cities can prepare for the autonomous future.

Issue: In 2017, 12 states approved self-driving vehicle-related legislation including measures to allow truck platooning, identify an agency to oversee testing and preempt local regulation. As the year wound down, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a streamlined version of policy guidance on automated driving systems and Congress was debating federal legislation that could preempt state authority in some areas. The growing use of drones in a variety of capacities also attracted the interest of states with 23 pieces of legislation enacted in 17 states. Federal drone legislation was also considered in conjunction with a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, but Congress ultimately approved just a six-month FAA extension that did not include drone language.

Nevada’s key partnerships at the intersection of transportation and technology, including on autonomous and electric vehicles, were in the spotlight last month as the CSG Transportation & Infrastructure Public Policy Committee convened during the CSG National Conference in Las Vegas. The meeting included remarks by committee vice chair Nevada Department of Transportation Director Rudy Malfabon, a discussion of CSG’s 2017 focus on autonomous and connected vehicle policy and industry and policy updates from officials representing the Association of Global Automakers, Audi of America and Uber.

CSG Midwest
In 2016, drivers distracted by their phones or other devices caused 1,230 crashes on Iowa roads, nearly double the number from a decade ago, state statistics show. This year, the state’s lawmakers passed two bills to crack down on these motorists.

Issue: After years of saying they were still years away, autonomous vehicles and other technologies are here—or nearly here (at least to some degree). Uber has a fleet of autonomous vehicles in Pittsburgh. Uber’s self-driving truck company, Otto, recently delivered a truck full of beer in Colorado. So now the question becomes how will state governments respond and how will they need to respond? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued guidelines last summer for states to consider in drafting autonomous vehicle legislation. But in trying to encourage the development of these technologies and perhaps reap an economic windfall, states will need to guard against doing more harm than good through legislation and regulation.

The November-December issue of Capitol Ideas magazine features my article on how states and communities are working to improve transportation mobility for older Americans. One of the experts featured in the article is Beth Osborne, vice president for technical assistance at Transportation for America in Washington, D.C. Osborne, a veteran of both the U.S. Department of Transportation and Capitol Hill, in recent years has been working with states on the implementation of complete streets policies. Complete streets are streets designed for safe access by all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders. In this extended excerpt of our conversation, Osborne talks about how complete streets can benefit seniors, how complete streets implementation processes have evolved, how the process differs from state to state, the promise of rideshare companies and autonomous vehicles for improving senior mobility and what kinds of policies state officials should consider during the 2017 legislative sessions. Osborne will be among the presenters next month at Transportation for America’s Capital Ideas II conference in Sacramento, for which CSG is a promotional partner.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) this week issued long-awaited guidance delineating responsibilities of the federal and state governments when it comes to policies to pave the way for self-driving cars. This came as the Obama administration signaled that while strong safety oversight will be a hallmark of policies governing testing and deployment, the federal government will encourage innovation in the industry in recognition of the vehicles’ potential to save time, money and lives. Response to the guidance appeared to be largely positive and with the ink not even dry on the document, a number of states appeared poised to move quickly on new autonomous vehicle legislation in the days and months ahead.

Since 2011, eight states and the District of Columbia have enacted state policies dealing with the testing and/or operation of autonomous vehicles. Those policies and other state initiatives have enabled a variety of autonomous technology testing activities around the country. With guidance to states from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration expected this month and a number of states on the verge of enacting additional legislation, 2017 could be a big year for autonomous vehicles. But legislative challenges still could lie ahead for states looking to push the envelope on this potentially transformative technology.

In 2007, Washington became the first state to ban texting while driving. Nine years later, 46 states and the District of Columbia have passed bans. Driver distraction is a leading factor in many crashes and texting is one of the most common distractions. Despite the risks, many drivers admit to distracted driving and the problem is particularly pervasive for young drivers.