There has been much discussion on what the U.S. Dept. of Transportation is doing to prepare our nation for autonomous vehicles and the future of transportation. Let’s take a step back. Autonomous vehicles represent a huge change in modern society. I think the shift is kind of like the shift from horse-driven carriages to motorized automobiles. Today, many of us are used to owning vehicles, driving them from point A to point B, usually alone.

We’ve been trained as drivers, and most of us are quite used to and comfortable with operating our personal vehicles. In the age of autonomy, all of this will change. Car ownership won’t look like it does today. Ride sharing and other transportation paradigms will likely start to take over. We won’t need to be trained as drivers like we are today, because the vehicles will be doing most of the driving for us.

If you’re a car buff or simply like car ownership or just are a fan of driving, this may be truly disappointing for you to think about. But by the time it happens, this will truly be the norm, and we will have found plenty of other things to do with the time we used to spend driving.

Like it did when our society first made the switch from horse and buggy to motorized automobiles, our infrastructure is going to have to change to support autonomous vehicles. There’s a lot of players involved in this societal shift—from automobile manufacturers and technology providers to governments, dozens of industries, and consumers.

We are standing on the precipice of change, looking forward and feeling excited and overwhelmed at the same time. How do we know what to expect? We don’t … we absolutely don’t know for sure what to expect. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be putting our heads together to try to figure out the way forward.

Actually, I’d say the very act of putting our heads together is a way forward. So, let’s talk about what the U.S. government is doing to help us reach an autonomous age.

Late last year, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation first announced an advance notice of proposed rulemaking for “AV 3.0” or “automated vehicles 3.0.” Basically, the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Admin.) suggests it’s looking to design a national pilot program that will help it facilitate, monitor, and learn from the testing and development of advanced vehicle technologies like automated driving systems.

NHTSA already opened this up for public comment, and now we’re just waiting to see what the department is going to do next with its proposed pilot program. This is exactly the sort of information-seeking song and dance we need to move the space forward, in my opinion.

What the DOT is doing is bringing a whole lot of bright minds together to try to figure out what the near-term and long-term challenges are of automated driving systems. And it’s not just the deployment of the systems; it’s the development and testing of these systems as well—because all of that (development and testing) will need to come first.

Also, the success of automated driving system deployment very much depends on the success of development and testing systems. We’re talking about the safety of on-road testing, we’re talking about regulations and statutory provisions, as well as exceptions and exemptions that may be necessary to support innovation.

The U.S. DOT sees AV 3.0 as the beginning of a national discussion about the future of our on-road surface transportation system. This is where the rubber meets the road. The answers to the questions it has been asking in this proposal are going to offer a huge advantage in taking the next steps toward an autonomous future.

As you may know, this isn’t the DOT’s first go at bringing people together to talk about AV’s. AV 3.0 builds on U.S. DOT’s “Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety,” but it expands the scope. Simply, we have within our grasp a technology that can prevent injuries and casualties caused by car accidents. Autonomous vehicle technology could not only save lives but also solve a lot of the transportation-related pain points of today’s society—traffic and lost productivity, carbon emissions contributing to climate change, and so on.

We need to do everything we can to bring about the era of autonomy as quickly and safely as we can. It will benefit our planet, it will benefit our lives, and let’s face it, it will save lives.

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