Policy Tries to Keep Pace With Automated Vehicles

July/August 2017

Communities: Government
Policy Tries to Keep Pace With Automated Vehicles

Automated VehiclesAs automated vehicle development speeds ahead, policy responses proceed at a slower pace. One reason is the need to consider important factors such as legal, security, and safety issues.

The Eno Center for Transportation, a Washington, DC think tank, recently released an AV action plan for federal, state, and local policymakers as part of its Digital Cities project. Beyond Speculation: Automated Vehicles and Public Policy offers recommendations on the most pressing AV policy issues to “help guide this technology towards safe, efficient, and sustainable deployment.”

Creating policy and investment plans to keep up with a rapidly changing market is a big challenge for public officials, the report notes. But as self-driving test vehicles are already on public roads, it’s important to consider the policy implications now. Currently, there exists a “patchwork” of state and local rules and nonbinding federal guidelines.

With so much uncertainty, the authors say, policymakers need to take an approach that will enable companies to release technologies that can benefit society and consumers “while also protecting the general public interest and welfare.”

Following are some of the report’s recommendations.

Congress should pass legislation allowing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to issue system certifications for the technology in self-driving vehicles.

Since AVs are designed to drive across state lines, the federal administration—not individual states—should certify technology and require standards that vary according to the level of automation, the report says. “AV firms need to demonstrate to NHTSA that their technology is at least safer than a human driver in the type of environment that they are authorized to drive,” the authors emphasize. Certifying AV technology with performance metrics and standards would circumvent the current patchwork of state laws.

States should create stakeholder working groups to oversee the development of laws.

Poorly designed state regulations could do more harm than good, Beyond Speculation notes. A stakeholder advisory group should include policymakers; regulators; lawyers; AV developers; and trade, community, and environmental groups. The group should meet regularly, perhaps two to three times a year, and guide policymakers on integrating federal regulations with existing state laws as technology changes.

Congress should develop a per-mile charge fee system on vehicles that are operating with a nonhuman certification.

Improving roads to aid AV technologies increases costs for cities and states that are already facing funding challenges. The report suggests a per-mile charge or vehicle mile traveled (VMT) fee. Manufacturers or tech firms that may sell automated driving as a service would pay the money to the government. The funds could be used both for a new federal grant program on transportation infrastructure and transportation investments that would improve AV safety and reliability.

States and localities should invest in robust “state of good repair” programs that facilitate the semiautomated features already available on some cars.

States and localities can make major progress toward AV compatibility simply by improving roadway conditions—for instance, by ensuring clear lane markings, uniform pavement without potholes, working traffic signals, and signs that are legible and visible from the roadway. Federal funding programs encouraging this kind of investment would benefit both AV and non-AV drivers, the authors point out.

Congress should make AV technologies eligible for federal safety programs to improve transportation operations.

States should be able to choose technological solutions if they can demonstrate reductions in the number of crashes, injuries, and fatalities, the report asserts. For instance, a state agency could spend $50 million to straighten a dangerous curve or put the money toward technologies that increase safety by improving lane markings or signaling systems to help AVs.

Cities, counties, metropolitan planning organizations, and state departments of transportation should examine and include the potential impacts of AVs on regional transportation systems in their long-range plans.

As agencies develop their plans, they should work with policymakers and other stakeholders to determine the effect of AVs on their accessibility, air quality, and land use development goals.

States and cities should fund AV research programs at local universities. And federal, state, and local governments should work with academic institutions to retrain workers for jobs lost to automation.

As the private sector invests in technology, universities can aid in the understanding of how AVs integrate into the transportation system. Partnerships between universities and governments, along with the private sector, can develop retraining or career development programs to address negative effects of automation (for instance for truck, taxi, and delivery drivers).

The full report includes 18 recommendations, with the goal of providing a framework for each level of government. As AV technology changes the transportation landscape, the authors write, “appropriate and effective public policies are critical to managing safe deployment. Innovative and measured action now is necessary to lay the groundwork for the future.”

Find the full report at tinyurl.com/EnoAV.

NSPE on Autonomous Vehicles

While NSPE recognizes the promise of autonomous vehicles, the Society emphasizes the need to protect the public health, safety, and welfare as AV technologies are developed and deployed. As part of its Grand Challenge to foster ethical innovation, NSPE is taking steps to ensure the same attention to safety and reliability that went into the built transportation infrastructure is incorporated into autonomous vehicles and smart transportation systems. In particular, NSPE is highlighting the critical role of the licensed professional engineer.

The Society’s Position Statement No. 1772—Autonomous Vehicles states, “Because the development of autonomous vehicles will have profound impacts on the public health, safety, and welfare, it is the position of NSPE that the testing and deployment of such technologies must include a licensed professional engineer.”

NSPE further emphasizes that professional engineers should be employed by AV and technology developers to “provide in-house oversight of the development, testing, and deployment, or consulting a third-party licensed professional engineer should be used to verify the safety and security of the technology in development, testing, and deployment.”

In addition, NSPE stresses that PEs must be “integrally involved in the comprehensive and coordinated development of local, state, or federal standards that will govern the development, testing, and deployment of these autonomous technologies.”

Taking Action
In its ongoing work on AV issues, NSPE has been collaborating with state departments of motor vehicles, state societies, national organizations, and federal policymakers.

Most recently, NSPE has submitted public comment to the California DMV urging revision to its proposed AV regulations, which enable fully autonomous testing and deployment without the requirement for any third-party certification.

In a public comment, NSPE 2016–2017 President Kodi Verhalen, P.E., Esq., F.NSPE, stated, “As more decisions related to the public health, safety, and welfare are removed from the driver and given to the car’s technology, the CDMV has a duty itself to ensure the appropriate safeguards are in place for rigorous pre-deployment testing, which NSPE recommends be verified by a licensed PE, whose own duty is to hold the public health, safety, and welfare paramount.”

NSPE also submitted formal public comment to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calling for professional engineer involvement to be incorporated in NHTSA’s guidelines for the development and deployment of AVs.

As Verhalen wrote, “In the absence of a third-party certification, verification is needed by a licensed professional engineer, internal to the development company. The licensed professional engineer will affix his or her seal to the engineered component attesting to the conclusion that the design is adequately protective of the public health, safety, and welfare.”

In late April, Verhalen moderated a panel discussion on “Ethics and Autonomous Vehicles” at the annual convocation of the National Academy of Engineering and American Association of Engineering Societies. Speakers included Bryant Walker Smith, assistant professor in the schools of law and engineering at the University of South Carolina, and Jason Borenstein, associate director of the Center for Ethics and Technology at Georgia Tech, who is scheduled to co-present a session on the ethics of self-driving cars at NSPE’s 2017 Professional Engineers Conference.

Access archived videos of the panelists’ introductions and remarks, and the panel discussion (Session II);

Learn more about the sessions at the 2017 Professional Engineers Conference, and register (online through July 14; then on-site in Atlanta starting July 19);

Keep up with NSPE’s ongoing work on autonomous vehicles.