Creating adaptable AV policy to match AV technology
February 05, 2021
February 05, 2021
We need to facilitate public-private policy frameworks to realize the AV promise
Testing of automated vehicles (AVs) has accelerated across the US and has created a sense of urgency to get national standards—promoting safety, innovation, and public confidence—to match the pace of technological advancement.
With a regulatory structure built entirely around human operation of vehicles—from driver’s education to traffic violation laws (including driving while intoxicated)—it’s hard to take humans out of the driving equation. In fact, the central role of human drivers can’t, and shouldn’t, change overnight. But safe and effective deployment of AVs will require us to modernize that framework.
Creative, evidence-based policymaking offers a preemptive way to develop use cases for AVs. With the term “use cases,” we mean those ways that AVs can fill transportation gaps and enhance the current system. Identifying these use cases and helping manage evolving risks and new regulatory considerations is enabled through testing partnerships between public and private entities.
In the absence of federal standards, states have started trying to solve the knotty policy and regulatory challenge of taking humans out of the driver’s seat. Since we know self-driving technology will keep evolving, any policy framework should set reasonable performance expectations for technology while building in the flexibility to adapt to innovation. But it can’t be so flexible that it amounts to no framework at all.
The promotion of a national testing strategy also helps AVs deliver maximum anticipated social benefits, like mobility for the disabled, for aging residents, and for areas whose economic and geographic limitations leave them underserved.
We recently helped the State of Vermont finalize a framework for AV testing and write accompanying guidelines, a project that excited us for several reasons. Vermont does not have perfect roads—the State counts 7,151 miles of paved roads, 6,008 miles of gravel roads, and 1,590 miles of graded earth roads. Vermont has challenging weather, with between 5 and 10 feet of snowfall per year interspersed with freezing rain. Vermont has aging and rural populations—27% of the total population is over 60 years old and 65% of the population lives in rural communities. And, yes, Vermont even has a mud season. Taken together, these challenging conditions make Vermont a place where testing should take place to ensure that AVs can operate successfully and reliably.
In developing Vermont’s framework, a snapshot of issues emerged, which many states and communities are confronting:
Helping Vermont devise its AV testing framework provided a snapshot of key issues we see communities confronting across the country.
By addressing such complicated questions in our work with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, the following approaches emerge for consideration to support a national testing and deployment strategy for AVs:
Without smarter and more adaptable policy and regulatory structures, we could easily lose some of the social benefits of AVs. This fluid (yet foundation-setting) moment calls for collaboration across all sectors to maximize this opportunity to improve mobility for both passengers and goods. Through a national testing strategy that promotes public and private partnerships, we can encourage investment and strengthen confidence in this emerging technology.