Autonomous vehicles have the potential to revolutionize how we move people and goods. As states navigate implementing this new technology, they face a number of potential public safety opportunities and challenges. The challenges and recommendations presented here provide guidance to states on how best to start down this road.
The expected availability of highly autonomous vehicles (AVs) in the near-term marks a new era in transportation. While research is still emerging, this developing technology—if deployed optimally—holds the promise of greater safety of riders, pedestrians, bicyclists and other road users, as nearly 94 percent of all driving-related fatalities are related to human error.
If deployed with coordinated planning by state and local government, AV technology also offers: improved mobility for seniors, persons with disabilities and the economically underserved; the potential for lower emissions from the transportation sector due to lower congestion and the expected pairing with electric drive trains and increased utilization of ridesharing; and greater worker productivity, and shorter commute times due to less congestion. Alongside the potential benefits are concerns about the safety of drivers, pedestrians and other road users during the transition period that will see autonomous and non-autonomous vehicles sharing the road. Other concerns include data sharing, worker dislocation, land-use changes that may offset emissions benefits, potential cyber vulnerabilities and lower state revenues.
For the testing and deployment of AVs to be successful, with benefits optimized and concerns addressed, governors and other state and local leaders need to be engaged alongside federal and private sector partners. A challenge will be creating the right regulatory and policy environment to encourage innovation while ensuring public safety; a critical element will be collecting and sharing data. This paper identifies some of the challenges related to the testing and initial deployment phases of AVs and highlights the governors’ role in bringing this new technology safely to the public.