How Autonomous Vehicles Will Shape the Future of Surface Transportation
Location: 2167 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515
The House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, chaired by U.S. Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI), will examine the potential impacts of the technology on the transportation network and federal policies that may be necessary for their integration into the infrastructure system. The panel plans to hear testimony from the U.S. Department of Transportation, a representative of state departments of transportation, representatives of the automobile manufacturing industry, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Eno Center for Transportation.
Summary of Subject Matter
Today’s hearing will focus on how autonomous vehicles will shape the future of surface transportation. These vehicles have the potential to offer incredible safety and mobility benefits to drivers and fundamentally transform transportation infrastructure as we know it.
It’s important to understand exactly what autonomous vehicles are. Some vehicles currently available to consumers have computer technology that performs some driving functions such as automatic parallel parking and adaptive cruise control. These features are considered a basic level of autonomy, but the purpose of today’s hearing is to discuss the impacts of more advanced levels of autonomy that could be available to the public in the next ten to twenty years. More advanced autonomous vehicles are capable of alerting drivers to danger and controlling a vehicle’s brakes and steering during certain situations where the driver reacts too slowly. These vehicles will blend human control with autonomous systems to make for a more convenient and safer driving experience.
The most advanced level of autonomous vehicle is capable of navigating roads with limited or no action from the driver by utilizing a variety of optical sensors, radar, and computer algorithms. The sensors deliver environmental data of the road and surrounding vehicles into the computer algorithm which then determines the appropriate driving maneuver.
These vehicles do not suffer from intoxicated or fatigued driving and are able to react to dangerous driving situations faster than a human driver.
Many auto manufacturers have developed prototypes that one day could be offered to consumers. Carnegie Mellon University has developed and tested one such vehicle at their University Transportation Center, and we will hear from the director of their program today.
Autonomous vehicles could significantly reduce traffic fatalities and crashes by reducing or eliminating driver error, which is a contributing factor in over 90% of all crashes. These crashes cost the United States economy over $200 billion per year in medical, property, and productivity losses. Crash reduction would also have the added benefit of reduced congestion since a high percentage of congestion is due to vehicle crashes.
While safety is the most important benefit, autonomous vehicles could reduce congestion and improve fuel economy through better utilization of existing highway capacity and more efficient operation of the vehicle’s acceleration and braking controls.
Seniors and persons with disabilities could be afforded greater mobility options that aren’t available to them today. Some researchers think autonomous vehicles could be offered to consumers as a service-based contract which provides a vehicle whenever the consumer requests one.
But these benefits can only be realized if federal and state authorities carefully prepare for their arrival and adopt policies that help autonomous vehicles assimilate into the transportation network. States have just started to address some of these challenges through laws allowing autonomous vehicles to operate on public roads and licensing procedures.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is conducting a pilot program on connected vehicle technology which could one day play a role in the autonomous vehicle system by communicating safety information to other vehicles on the road.
Liability and cyber security concerns are significant barriers to autonomous vehicle adoption. Who is at fault in a crash between a vehicle operated by a human and one operated by a computer system? Are proper encryption technologies in place that protects autonomous vehicles from unwanted intrusion? All of these concerns must be addressed before benefits from autonomous vehicles can be realized.
Vehicles and the infrastructure they utilize are becoming increasingly integrated with computer technology which has the potential to revolutionize highway safety and mobility in America. In order to see these benefits come to fruition, federal and state officials should begin planning for the benefits and challenges that autonomous vehicles will bring to the future of our nation’s surface transportation system.
I hope today’s hearing will provide our Committee Members with insight into this important issue.
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