Top 5 Issues for 2017: Transportation & Infrastructure Policy: The Future is Now (for Autonomous Vehicles)
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.
2016 saw many significant developments on the autonomous vehicle front. Among them, the deployment of Uber’s fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh and the release of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) guidance on state and federal policy in that area. The promise of an autonomous vehicle future has the potential to be profound, many believe.
“The development and testing of automated vehicles really presents a significant economic opportunity for us and there’s also the opportunity for us to increase safety,” said Damon Porter, director of state government affairs at the Association of Global Automakers during remarks at the CSG National Conference in Colonial Williamsburg in December.
In the realm of safety, automakers have their eye on one key number—35,092. That was the number of traffic fatalities in the United States in 2015.
“Ninety-four percent were the result of human driving error,” Porter said. “And so we need to think about how we can improve safety and how we can make our cars safer. Autonomous vehicles really are going to be the way because they’re going to help us in terms of reducing the human driver error impact.”
But there is another key motivation on the minds of those pushing for a rapid deployment of autonomous vehicles—improving mobility for all Americans.
“This is really going to enable mobility and independence for the disabled, the blind, those in a wheelchair, even the elderly who may not be able to drive anymore,” said Chan Lieu, senior legislative advisor at the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, during a session at Transportation for America’s (T4America) Capital Ideas II conference in Sacramento in November.
Despite all the promise of autonomous vehicles and despite so much recent activity in the field though, many warn that there is still much that is unknown about when the future will really arrive—and how.
“It’s really uncertain in terms of when we will see fully automated cars on the public roads and it’s really uncertain to determine what year we’ll see fully automated cars and in what capacity,” said Porter. “Will it be in the truck platooning area first? Will it be in ridesharing with Uber or Lyft? Or will it be in the capacity of you going to your local dealer and buying a fully automated car?”
Lieu noted that Ford and Lyft are both talking about 2021 as the year for at least limited small scale deployments. Moody’s has forecast that the majority of vehicles in the fleet won’t be autonomous until 2045 with the turnover of the entire fleet to autonomous vehicles not expected until 2050 at the earliest. Many believe deployment of the vehicles will happen faster in cities, where the economics make the most sense.
What has some concerned is what happens during the intervening years.
“The reality is that on our public roads we are going to experience a certain percentage of cars with no automation,” said Porter. “We will experience a certain percentage of cars with some automation. We will experience a percentage of cars with full automation. And so the question is: how do all those cars speak to each other? How do those cars speak with the infrastructure and the traffic signals? How do we have a fully integrated transportation network?”
In that regard, Porter said it’s important not to lose sight of the issue of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication. In late 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed a regulation that would require automakers to build V2V communications and safety technology into all new light-duty vehicles. Automakers are also concerned about a proposed FCC rule on whether the 5.9 gigahertz band originally intended for Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) used in V2V should be shared with Wi-Fi.
NHTSA Guidance on Autonomous Vehicles
Of course NHTSA also weighed in on autonomous vehicle policy itself in 2016 in a 116-page document that seeks to define the responsibilities of the federal and state governments in regulating testing and deployment. It included vehicle performance guidance, model state policy and two sections on regulatory tools.
“NHTSA has put out this very careful, nimble and flexible approach to guidance,” Porter said. “The guidance does not necessarily need to be codified in states because it will continue to evolve and change as the technology and innovation changes. There have been lots of folks including states that have weighed in with comments … in terms of how the guidance can be sharper and how it can provide a clearer roadmap for states. We believe that a nimble and flexible approach to these rulemaking procedures should be done at the national level so that we have a consistent and cohesive approach to federal policy and also can give guidance to the states in terms of where they want to go.”
Porter said he saw intense interest from state policymakers around the country in 2016 who wanted to know how they could engage on autonomous vehicles.
“Some have viewed this issue from an economic development standpoint: How do we get involved with automated vehicles to attract or retain businesses to do research and development, to move the facilities to our state to invest dollars?” he said. “And while I understand the importance from a state perspective of generating revenue and creating jobs … our biggest concern right now is that we have seen states like California, Nevada, the District of Columbia and others already enact automated vehicle legislation. We’re seeing other states consider this and this creates the potential for a patchwork of laws that will really create uncertainty for manufacturers.”
For automakers, such a patchwork would raise a host of questions that could make it difficult for all states to achieve the autonomous vehicle future on the same timetable.
“What happens if state A passes an autonomous vehicle law with respect to testing that narrowly defines what automated features are and the state next door does nothing?” Porter asked. “Will the cars that have automated features … be permitted to cross the state lines or will they not, for example? This is a significant public policy question that we need to have those states engage. More importantly, our manufacturers cannot design and develop 50 different types of vehicles. We need to be able to develop one car with a national standard that is available to be sold in all 50 states.”
It can be easy for states to overreach and become too specific in the definitions of the technologies they’re seeking to regulate in legislation, Porter said. He noted that some vehicles being sold today that include some automated vehicle technology features would be prohibited under some of the bills he saw introduced in 2016. Porter also sees the potential for conflict if cities decide they want a piece of the regulatory action and when states decide they need to take another bite at the legislative apple.
“The city of Boston, for example, … issued an executive order on testing,” he said. “The same day or the day after, the governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts issued his own executive order on testing. … The state of Michigan has passed a series of automated vehicle laws to try to clarify what they enacted several years before and this again creates one of the challenges that we’re seeing in states that are rushing to keep up with the technology. Technology and innovation will always outpace public policy and what we’re seeing now is states like Florida and Michigan, which passed automated vehicle bills in the last few years having to go back every year and to redefine, to re-clarify what automated vehicle definitions are and who is an operator. This is really starting to create some uncertainty in the marketplace.”
Lieu also had a word of caution for the legislative process.
“Once you introduce a bill, it’s kind of out of your hands,” he said. “You can’t always control what the ultimate outcome is going to be. We saw in California what that kind of morphed into. Now I would say California is kind of on their back foot in terms of deployment. … I don’t necessarily think that legislation is always the first answer. … What’s the best way to demonstrate that yes you are open for business and you want to see this come to that municipality while at the same time avoiding legislation that really kind of gets stuff fixed in place that really doesn’t incentivize deployment?”
Porter argued there are a couple of places that are doing things right without changing the law. The city of Columbus, which won the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge in 2016, has leveraged $50 million in grant funding into more than $100 million, which will allow it to deploy new technologies to improve transportation, among other things. Ohio Governor John Kasich has also designated a 35-mile stretch of U.S. 33 as an autonomous vehicle testing corridor.
“Again, no laws, no rules have been changed and yet Ohio and the city of Columbus will become one of the first communities with a fully integrated transportation network on the connected side,” Porter said.
Another example is the Commonwealth of Virginia, Porter said, where Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg and others are working to test autonomous vehicle features and designs and where the state departments of transportation, motor vehicles and highway patrol are working to ensure safety without changing any laws.
“We believe in the short term this is the way states should address this issue and to the extent you need to change laws or modify or clarify laws, they should be done in a very narrow scope,” Porter said. For example, the traditional areas that states have focused on in transportation, which are licensing and registration and insurance or where you have laws that would prohibit the ability of testing to continue. For example, the state of New York, which has a very difficult provision in the law which requires one hand on the wheel. We believe that is perhaps one area where states should modify and clarify their laws. But to the extent states really believe they need to put on the books that they’re open for business with respect to automated vehicle technology or that they want to go even further in terms of defining or clarifying who is the operator or how the car should be designed to perform is really going to inhibit your state to be a leader in this regard.”
But some believe it will be hard for states to maintain a hands-off approach.
“I think that’s a really difficult line for states to be walking to be totally honest,” said Sahar Shirazi of the Governor’s Office of Planning & Research in California during the T4America conference. “On the one hand you want to enable this industry and this technology to help and benefit your communities and on the other hand you don’t want to have it so open that they can do whatever they want and it undermines all the goals (of the state). What is that line and where is that difference between regulation and guidance that you might need to provide? I would say as a state we’re still kind of struggling with that.”
And others argue state policymakers and others should lend a guiding hand now to avoid what they see as a less than ideal autonomous future.
“You can imagine a scenario where this technology does not have any policy alongside it and induces a lot of demand and displaces a lot of the progress we’ve made in walking and biking, possibly erodes transit by making driving a more enticing option for people and then really starts to encourage sprawl and change our land use,” said Corinne Kisner, director of policy and special projects at the National Association of City Transportation Officials. “Or you can imagine a scenario where we really guide this technology to be a shared fleet deployment with electric vehicles instead of gas-powered vehicles, where we start to really look proactively at our parking policy to free up land and make it more available for transit and for walking and biking and where we start to apply the automated technology to transit vehicles as well and not just personal vehicles.”
Shirazi believes states can play a key role by supporting the cities and counties where autonomous vehicle testing and pilots are taking place by providing technical assistance and seed funding.
Those pilot projects can be critical when it comes to convincing the general public that autonomous vehicles are safe, Lieu noted.
“Uber is testing (autonomous vehicles) in Pittsburgh and that’s allowing everyday consumers to use their app to get into a vehicle—obviously with a test driver behind the wheel and another engineer in the passenger seat monitoring the system to make sure it’s performing the way that it should be,” he said. “But it’s a way for people to experience the technology and realize this is not as scary as (they) initially feared. … Technology is scary. People are not very comfortable with the idea of surrendering control of a vehicle to a system. But I would argue that right now we are very comfortable pressing a button when you get on an elevator. Think back 50 years ago. There were elevator operators who controlled that manually. … That’s going to require time. It’s going to require education.”
Lieu said there may be setbacks along the way as well.
“I think this process of bringing fully automated vehicles to the market is going to involve a fair amount of failure but the idea is you learn from all of this and so there’s definitely going to have to be a fair amount of patience from the public and from policymakers,” Lieu said.
But many believe the benefits to safety, mobility and other metrics will make the journey to an autonomous vehicle future all worth it in the end.
Further Reading & Resources
Autonomous & Connected Vehicle Technologies
- “Automakers, suppliers team up to share costs of self-driving cars,” Reuters. January 8, 2017.
- “Self-driving fleets to give consumers more options,” Detroit Free Press. January 7, 2017.
- “The Future of Autonomous Vehicles is Shared,” The Atlantic CityLab. January 6, 2017.
- “Transportation chief urges Trump to press forward on self-driving cars,” The Hill. January 5, 2017.
- Texas: “TxDOT, TTI Sign MOU to Test Connected and Automated Vehicle Technologies,” Texas A&M Transportation Institute. January 5, 2017.
- California: “After Uber brouhaha, CA looks to tighten self-driving law,” CNET. January 5, 2017.
- “6 Stories Driving Autonomous Vehicle Policy in 2017,” Eno Transportation Weekly. January 5, 2017.
- “It’s Aye, Robot, as Driverless Cars Finally Steer Near Showrooms,” Bloomberg Technology. January 2, 2017.
- “Battle of Technologies Shaping-Up for Connected Vehicles,” Planetizen. December 31, 2016.
- “When are Driverless Vehicles REALLY Coming?!” Driving Towards Driverless Cars. December 30, 2016.
- “US has few rules of the road for self-driving cars,” San Francisco Chronicle. December 29, 2016.
- Pennsylvania: “Uber asked a lot of Pittsburgh for its self-driving cars, and offered back very little,” Quartz. December 29, 2016.
- Florida: “In Florida, no permit needed for driverless cars, state senator says,” Miami Herald. December 29, 2016.
- Massachusetts: “Self-driving car set to hit streets,” Boston Herald. December 29, 2016.
- “Uber Freight and Amazon Prepare to Fight Over Future-Trucking,” Inverse. December 29, 2016.
- “3 Bumps on the Road Ahead for Shared Autonomous Vehicles,” The Atlantic Citylab. December 28, 2016.
- “The year in driverless cars: promise, potential and peril,” Curbed. December 27, 2016.
- “NHTSA’s vehicle-to-vehicle mandate could be DOA: Radio-Based V2V technology that would be required is already falling out of favor with automakers,” Auto Week. December 27, 2016.
- “Two roads to the same place: 2016 and the future of self-driving cars,” Ars Technica. December 23, 2016.
- “Anthony Foxx, the Great Connector,” The Atlantic CityLab. December 23, 2016.
- Arizona: “Uber Moves Self-Driving Car Experiment to Arizona,” Governing. December 23, 2016.
- California: “Why Uber’s self-driving program failed in San Francisco,” Curbed. December 22, 2016.
- Maryland: “Maryland proposes I-95 as testing ground for driverless cars,” The Baltimore Sun. December 21, 2016.
- “The dangers of partially automated driving cars,” The Hill. December 21, 2016.
- Texas: “Texas Automated Vehicle Proving Ground Partnership: How Collaboration Will Redefine Automation,” Texas A&M Transportation Institute. December 20, 2016.
- “Silicon Valley Dominating Self-Driving Tech? Motor City Says Not So Fast,” The New York Times. December 20, 2016.
- “7 autonomous vehicle partnerships that will shape the future,” Tech Republic. December 19, 2016.
- Ohio: “Ohio Turnpike to put new focus on connected vehicles in 2017,” The Plain Dealer. December 19, 2016.
- “Google Wants Driverless Cars, But Do We?” The New York Times. December 19, 2016.
- “Expect Passenger Vehicles to Talk to Each Other in the Near Future,” Planetizen. December 18, 2016.
- “USDOT Proposes Requiring Vehicle-to-Vehicle Technology for Light-Duty Fleet,” AASHTO Journal. December 16, 2016.
- Michigan: “Autonomous Vehicles—The Future Has Arrived in Michigan,” The National Law Review. December 16, 2016.
- California: “Business, civic leaders push for driverless-car testing in Sacramento,” Sacramento Business Journal. December 15, 2016.
- “Transportation chief: Driverless car work will survive Trump,” The Hill. December 14, 2016.
- “Questioning the Rush to Connected Vehicles,” Reason Foundation Surface Transportation News. December 13, 2016.
- “Ride-hailing has a friend in Chao, but does self-driving?” USA Today. December 13, 2016.
- “The Legal Lanes Are Opening Fast for Driverless Cars,” The Ringer. December 13, 2016.
- “Thinking Beyond the (Autonomous) Vehicle: The Promise of Saved Lives,” Planetizen. December 13, 2016.
- Michigan: “Michigan Just Embraced the Driverless Future,” Wired. December 9, 2016.
- Washington: “Washington state lawmakers grapple with coming wave of self-driving vehicles,” GeekWire. December 1, 2016.
- Ohio: “Smart Mobility: ODOT initiates smart mobility corridor,” Roads & Bridges. December 1, 2016.
- “How will autonomous vehicles change American cities?” JLL Real Views. November 17, 2016.
- “Automated Cars Could Threaten Jobs Of Professional Drivers,” Associated Press. November 14, 2016.
- “With Driverless Cars, Trump Needs to Keep His Foot on the Gas,” PC Magazine. November 11, 2016.
- “Why the Department of Transportation’s self-driving car guidelines aren’t enough,” Tech Crunch. November 6, 2016.
- “Driving Towards Driverless: A Guide for Government Agencies,” WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff. October 2016.
- “How Will Self-Driving Cars Change Cities? It depends on who owns them,” Slate. October 25, 2016.
- Massachusetts: “Walsh, Baker sign orders to create self-driving car regulations,” Boston Herald. October 20, 2016.
- “Driverless cars face long road before adoption,” The Hill. October 11, 2016.
- “Driverless Cars Need Just One Thing: Futuristic Roads,” Backchannel. October 10, 2016.
- “Top 5 Impacts Self-Driving Cars Will Have on the U.S. Economy,” Safety Resource Center. October 3, 2016.
- “Staying in Control: Bridging the Gaps in Autonomous Vehicle Safety,” Transportation Resource Associates. September 2016.
- California: “New California Law Allows Test of Autonomous Shuttle With No Driver,” Fortune. September 29, 2016.
- “States May Downshift Regulations for Driverless Cars,” Governing. September 27, 2016.
- “Self-Driving Hype Doesn’t Reflect Reality,” The Wall Street Journal. September 26, 2016.
- “As Federal Autonomous Vehicle Policy is Issued, States Poised to Move Quickly,” CSG Blog Post. September 22, 2016.
- Pennsylvania: “Pa. lawmakers to parallel feds on self-driving car guidelines,” Tribune-Review. September 20, 2016.
- “State Laws on Autonomous Vehicles,” Capitol Research Brief. September 15, 2016.
- Wyoming: “WYDOT Moves Into Next Phase to Deploy Connected Vehicle Technology Along I-80,” AASHTO Journal. September 16, 2016.
- Pennsylvania: “Anybody Can Test a Self-Driving Car in Pennsylvania,” The Atlantic Citylab. September 14, 2016.
- “AASHTO: Heavy Testing Needed of Devices Eyed for Sharing Smart Vehicle Spectrum,” AASHTO Journal. July 15, 2016.
- Missouri: “Nixon vetoes ‘connected vehicle’ testing program for trucks,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. July 8, 2016.
- “Senator pushes for cyber protections in vehicles,” The Hill. June 28, 2016.
- Florida: “Groundwork for a Connected Vehicle Pilot Program in Tampa Forges Ahead,” Route Fifty. June 27, 2016.
- Michigan: “Southeast Michigan navigates smart roads, but financing remains uncertain,” Crain’s Detroit Business. June 26, 2016.
- “Connected Vehicle Pilot Deployments—The Future of Transportation is Here,” Fast Lane: The Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Transportation. June 6, 2016.
- Colorado: “Colorado DOT Partners With Mapping Firm in Connected Vehicle Alert Pilot Project,” AASHTO Journal. January 22, 2016.
Impacts of Technology on Planning for Cities & States
- “Secretary Foxx Releases Beyond Traffic 2045 Final Report on Future of Transportation,” U.S. Department of Transportation (press release). January 9, 2017.
- “States Wire Up Roads as Cars Get Smarter,” The Wall Street Journal. January 2, 2017.
- Massachusetts: “Fast Forward: The Technology Revolution in Transportation and What it Means for Massachusetts,” Transportation for Massachusetts, Frontier Group, et al. 2016.
- “Infrastructure’s Digital Disruption: Planning that doesn’t account for technology’s exponential impact will be off the mark,” Governing. November 22, 2016.
- Iowa: “Technology drives transportation development,” Herald-Whig. November 18, 2016.
- California: “A Transportation Revolution Can’t Run on Autopilot,” Eno Transportation Weekly. November 14, 2016.
- “The Future of Transportation: Q&A with DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx,” Car and Driver. October 24, 2016.
- “A roadmap for America’s transportation future,” Curbed. October 18, 2016.
- “Future of Transportation: Shared Vehicles Could Dramatically Alter City Landscapes,” Digital Communities. October 13, 2016.
- Florida: “Inside One of the Most Aggressive Intelligent Transportation-IoT Efforts in the U.S.,” Government Technology. October 10, 2016.
- “These researchers think we’re nearing ‘peak car’—and the consequences could be dramatic,” The Washington Post. September 22, 2016.
- “Ride-hailing services, driverless cars reshape parking garage design,” The Tennesseean. August 29, 2016.
- Pennsylvania: “Uber got this right—Pittsburgh is America’s city of the future,” Salon. August 19, 2016.
- “Building the infrastructure for zero emissions and alternative fuel vehicles,” State Smart Transportation Initiative. August 8, 2016.
- “FHWA Invites States to Help Designate Zero-Emission, Alternative Fuels Corridors,” AASHTO Journal. July 29, 2016.
- “Shared vehicles could make our cities dramatically more livable,” Vox. July 28, 2016.
- “How the Internet of Things (IoT) Can Bring U.S. Transportation and Infrastructure into the 21st Century,” U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce Science & Transportation (hearing). June 28, 2016.
- “How the Daily Commute Is Going to Change,” The Wall Street Journal. April 24, 2016.
- “The way we get around is about to change,” Vox.
- “Transportation Planning Needed for Building Cities of the Future,” Clean Technica. February 8, 2016.
- “What We Learned from the Smart City Challenge to Build Cities for the Future,” Fast Lane: The Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Transportation. January 3, 2017.
- Ohio: “Columbus, Ohio: What’s next for the DoT Smart City Challenge winner,” TechRepublic. November 25, 2016.
- Ohio: “Smart City Champion Columbus Aspires to Redefine Tech and Transportation,” StateTech. October 25, 2016.
- “Two more Smart City Challenge finalists get USDOT funding for ITS programs,” Traffic Technology Today. October 24, 2016.
- Colorado: “Denver uses Transportation Department grant to build ‘smart city,’” KDVR-TV. October 23, 2016.
- “Transportation problems make smart cities a national priority,” Brookings. October 20, 2016.
- “16 cities join T4America’s Smart Cities Collaborative to tackle urban mobility challenges together,” Transportation for America. October 18, 2016.
- Ohio: “More Details Unveiled on “Smart Columbus” Transportation Program,” Columbus Underground. September 30, 2016.
- “Smart Cities Technology is Appealing, But How Will It Get Financed?” Route Fifty. September 29, 2016.
- Ohio: “Columbus: “No light rail for us, please—just loads and loads of driverless cars,”” Grist. July 21, 2016.
- Ohio: “Columbus, Ohio, Wins $50M Smart City Challenge; Other Finalists to Share Benefits,” AASHTO Journal. June 24, 2016.
- Ohio: “Why Columbus Won the Smart City Challenge,” Governing. June 23, 2016.
- Illinois: “IDOT Finds Early Success in Using Drones,” WJBD. January 3, 2017.
- “Amazon Conducts First Commercial Drone Delivery,” The Wall Street Journal. December 14, 2016.
- “On His Way Out, US Transportation Chief Anthony Foxx Sets Drones Free,” Wired. November 13, 2016.
- “Why California may not see statewide rules on the use of drones anytime soon,” Los Angeles Times. July 31, 2016.
- “FAA Finalizes Regulation for Business, Government to Routinely Use Aerial Drones,” AASHTO Journal. June 24, 2016.
- “Drone Laws Passed In Over Half of States In Last Few Years,” State Net Capitol Journal. May 5, 2016.