The opportunities for autonomous driving are vast. It can create a paradigm shift in transportation, freeing up drivers to be passengers, and ultimately leading to fewer traffic fatalities. Less traffic means less pollution. Still, we know the future of AVs (automated vehicles) hinges on a lot more than just the technology. We need cooperation between government and technology. We need to address the public’s concerns for safety related to self-driving cars. Now, the government is taking the steps to create a tool to address this.

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation recently launched a public online tool to improve the safety and testing transparency of automated driving systems. Here is what the tool does: It provides data of on-road testing of automated driving systems in 17 cities across the country, expanding the information available to the public about the vehicles.

“This platform showcases data submitted voluntarily by government and private sector participants,” says U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao. “It unlocks valuable information for state and local governments overseeing testing. It encourages developers to exercise better, safer practices, and it provides clarity on AV testing for communities all across the country.”

The great news here is it provides data related to safety performance. She explains, “The department is addressing legitimate public concerns regarding safety and security without hampering progress, and removing unnecessary and burdensome red tape. Transparency is so important for the development of automated vehicles. This new web platform will make on-road testing information accessible to government, industry, and the public alike. This will improve safety and help everyone better understand how automated vehicles are being tested in our communities.”

We also see the platform allows participants to share testing activities related to automated driving systems and other safety-related information with the public. Online mapping tools may show testing locations at the local, state, and national levels, as well as testing activity data, which may include dates, frequency, vehicle counts, and routes. Currently the tool has data on on-road testing activities in 17 cities across the country. We see 10 companies and nine states have already signed on as participants in the voluntary web pilot.

This tool is part of an initiative called the Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing, also known as AV TEST, announced in June, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin., is overseeing it. This aligns with the department’s leadership on automated driving system vehicles, including AV 4.0 Ensuring American Leadership in Automated Vehicle Technologies.

“The AV TEST initiative will continue this effort of integration and improve consumer awareness engagement as automated vehicle testing becomes increasingly prevalent across the nation,” says U.S. Senator John Thune. “Automated vehicles have the potential to drastically improve safety on the nation’s roads and the mobility and quality of life for the disabled and elderly.”

Congressman Fred Upton also points to a few examples of where AVs can provide value in times of crisis, saying, “We’ve seen this technology being leveraged in response to the ongoing pandemic. For example, a senior community in California is using automated shuttles to deliver packages and meals to its residents. And down in Florida, the Jacksonville Transit Authority is overseeing the use of technology to deliver a COVID test to the lab. These test cases demonstrate our need to stay committed, to do everything that we can to ensure investment in Belmont, as this technology happens across the country.”

When considering AV legislation, Senator Thune suggests ensuring three things: preserve the traditional roles of federal and state regulators; it should build on NHTSA’s current efforts to address incompatible regulatory requirements that were not written with AV in mind; and it should enhance NHTSA’s ability to expand testing and grant exemptions where existing requirements may inhibit safety innovations.

“This Congress continues to develop a legislative framework,” says Thune. “The AV test initiative will encourage the development of advanced solutions to improve vehicle safety while providing important data that will inform the development of a safe and nationally consistent regulatory framework for AVs. Importantly, this initiative will promote engagement by industry stakeholders and the public in the development of AV testing guidelines at the federal level.”

The online tracking tool will soon be open to all stakeholders involved in the safe development and testing of automated driving system vehicles. Chao has a few thoughts about what is coming next.

“We’ve seen rapid changes in automated vehicle technology in recent years, and the path ahead will be transformational,” she says. “AVs have the potential to save thousands of lives and they could also restore mobility, for the elderly and people with disabilities. AV technologies are not yet advanced enough to enable the wide-scale deployment of fully autonomous vehicles, but someday they may be.”

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