What to Include in a National Framework for Self-Driving Vehicles

 An Mcity driverless shuttle drives at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

An Mcity driverless shuttle drives at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Paul Sancya / AP Photo


Connecting state and local government leaders

State and local officials had some ideas for Congress at a Wednesday hearing on Capitol Hill.

WASHINGTON — State and local transportation officials emphasized Wednesday the need for a national framework to guide the testing and operation of self-driving vehicles.

Congress passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act in 2015, authorizing $305 billion in spending over six years with a focus on safety. That “began a nice transition,” Shailen Bhatt, president and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, told the House Transportation Highways and Transit Subcommittee.

But the next surface transportation bill should include a multimodal framework for “moving people, data and freight,” Bhatt added, one that takes not only safety but interoperability of autonomous vehicle technology across state lines into account.

In 2017, 30 states took up 78 proposals attempting to regulate automated driving, creating a jumble of rules and pilots that federal oversight could help untangle. The House passed the SELF DRIVE Act a year ago, but neither that bill nor another proposal called the AV START Act has seen the Senate floor.

“If it’s going to be integrated into a uniform, national system, at some point the government is going to have to be involved in setting some regulation dealing with the industry,” said U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat. “We don’t want to end up with things that are incompatible with one another.”

Heart of Iowa Regional Transit Agency officials have developed programs connecting residents in remote areas with work transportation, but they worry rural America will be left behind without a national framework, said Executive Director Julia Castillo.

She said any national framework should help foster partnerships between transit agencies and the private sector to assist residents in accessing public transit where stops are just out of reach—often referred to as the first-mile, last-mile problem.

“A lot of people who live in the rural areas do work in the urban areas, and so we can partner with our urban transit providers, as rural providers, if we can cover some of that first-mile, last-mile stuff,” Castillo said.

Rural areas feature an aging population of seniors, who could still benefit from autonomous vehicles if trained to use the technology properly, she added.

Meanwhile Contra Costa County, California, boasts the largest secure AV testing site in the U.S.—home to Honda and Lyft vehicles. Contra Costa Transportation Authority Executive Director Randell Iwasaki wants any federal framework implemented to be technology neutral.

“Sometimes meaningful regulations will get in the way of innovation,” Iwasaki said. “So understand what that technology will do.”

A good framework will facilitate the sharing of proprietary data from partners and, in particular, information on AV near misses, he added, because the 360-degree views they provide will enhance understanding of their collisions.

“Sharing of the data is going to be critical in the future,” Iwasaki said.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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