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The transition to self-driving vehicles could breed more congestion, not less, in the short term, one new report predicts. How should states prepare the proper policy environment?
Governors looking to manage autonomous vehicles should maintain state oversight and regulatory authority over testing and deployment via a point agency, according to new National Governors Association recommendations.
That agency should, in turn, collaborate with other state entities including the departments of transportation, public safety, energy and economic development.
Some states are already moving on developing policy frameworks for self-driving cars. Pennsylvania went so far as to establish an interagency workgroup, the Autonomous Vehicle Policy Task Force, consisting of university, local, federal, trucking, insurance, auto, and ride hailing stakeholders. Ohio and Colorado created similar workgroups to generate policy recommendations.
“States are encouraged to require AV entities to report information about AV crashes and malfunctions in order to evaluate safety policies,” according to the issue paper released this week. “However, regulations should also be flexible enough to keep pace with changing technology, not restrictive enough to create barriers to the private sector, ensure that such regulations are neutral as applied across the many different companies operating in this sector, and allow for transparency to the public.”
More than 100 AV pilots are underway worldwide and commercial robo-taxi service is expected in a few large cities like Las Vegas before the end of 2018, according to a World Economic Forum study released late last month.
Researchers examined how AVs could affect traffic flow in Boston and concluded the number of vehicles on the road will decrease an estimated 15 percent in favor of mobility-on-demand services, vehicle distance travelled will increase 16 percent due to additional trips being necessary, parking spaces needed will decrease 48 percent, and travel time will increase 4 percent.
More importantly, the report predicted that mass transit will be abandoned at a higher rate, 16 percent, than personal vehicles, 9 percent, increasing the number of road-based trips and therefore congestion.
Lawmakers must implement policies—like occupancy-based pricing and conversion of on-street parking into drop-off and pick-up zones, bike lanes or green space—addressing such imbalances, according to the WEF study.
Governors are ideally where the leadership should be coming from on the thorny issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, the NGA report found. Governor-led coordination between states and localities could improve mobility for seniors, people with disabilities and the economically underserved; lower emissions by reducing congestion; and boost worker productivity through shorter commutes.
Already 30 states and Washington, D.C. have attempted some form of balanced AV framework, and 11 states have executive orders or laws authorizing self-driving vehicle operation. Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia have gone a step further, working with developers to get AVs on public roads.
NGA recommends governors further engage the federal government and private sector, exploring public-private partnerships between AV operators and regulators. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has already issued AV policy guidance.
Self-driving vehicles present new data sharing, land use, cybersecurity and revenue challenges for states, and how best to ensure driver and pedestrian safety is unclear during the transition to self-driving vehicles on roadways. Coordination with law enforcement on risk mitigation, crash response and ticketing is critical, according to NGA.
“Law enforcement should understand how AVs may affect their duties and should have sufficient resources to carry out their jobs,” according to the issue paper. “The lead state law enforcement agency should develop a comprehensive operations plan with input from the interagency workgroup, local law enforcement, and other stakeholders.”
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.
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