Safety & Accident

States Urged to Better Prepare for Autonomous Vehicles

February 03, 2017

Graphic courtesy of GHSA.
Graphic courtesy of GHSA.

With more vehicle manufacturers and tech companies testing self-driving cars on public roads, the Governors Highway Safety Association has opted to release a report offering state governments advice on how to prepare for the future impact of autonomous vehicles. Among the GHSA recommendations: educate the public about the technology and don't rush into adopting regulations.

“The research and media attention given to autonomous vehicles often overlooks the safety implications that a mix of driver-operated and autonomous vehicles will bring,” said James Hedlund, the report’s author. “Unfortunately, ignoring the driver side of the equation may negate many of the expected safety benefits.”

Hedlund is a former senior official with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

GHSA pointed out that autonomous vehicles will share the road with traditional driver-operated cars for many decades, perhaps forever. And the public remains skeptical. Polls suggest that only about one-fifth of drivers say they would buy an autonomous car as soon as one is available, and fewer than one-third say they would be comfortable riding in one. This presents a myriad of safety challenges for states, which are responsible for licensing drivers, educating the public about traffic safety, and establishing and enforcing traffic laws.

The newly released report, “Autonomous Vehicles Meet Human Drivers: Traffic Safety Issues for States,” provides an overview of the current autonomous vehicle landscape and outlines suggested priorities for state Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMVs) and Highway Safety Offices as autonomous vehicles become more widespread.

Key recommendations from the GHSA report include:

  • Educate the public — States should develop education campaigns on the benefits and risks of autonomous vehicles, how to operate vehicles with some autonomous features safely, and how to share the road with autonomous vehicles.
  • Don’t rush into passing laws — States should wait until model laws and regulations have been developed to encourage a common structure and prevent a patchwork of inconsistent laws and regulations that may delay autonomous vehicle implementation.
  • Capture the data — States should identify vehicle automation levels in their registration, driver licensing and crash information systems. Police crash reports should be designed to help facilitate comprehensive and accurate data collection.
  • Engage law enforcement — States should include law enforcement in their planning since autonomous vehicles raise a range of issues for law enforcement, including officer safety, enforcement procedures and vehicle identification.
Graphic courtesy of GHSA.
Graphic courtesy of GHSA.

“Drivers are often forgotten as we discuss autonomous vehicles, but cars driven by humans will be on the road for at least another generation,” said Jonathan Adkins, GHSA executive director. “As human drivers begin to share the road with different levels of autonomous vehicles, states will need to stay informed, be patient and be flexible.”

To download the GHSA report, click here.

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