A new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) studies the impending arrival of autonomous vehicles (AVs) and their promised safety benefits, but warns there will still be crashes while they share the road with human-driven vehicles.
Authored by Dr Jim Hedlund, a former senior official with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the GHSA’s new report, Preparing for Automated Vehicles: Traffic Safety Issues for States, funded by the State Farm insurance group, analyzes market trends and finds that most AVs for the foreseeable future will share driving responsibility with humans, and are likely do so for many decades.
The report suggests that human operators will still exert significant control and will be able to change their vehicle’s AV level dynamically, just as drivers today can activate or deactivate cruise control. Although AVs promise to bring many mobility benefits and improve safety, there will continue to be crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving AVs, especially for the many years ahead when they share the road with vehicles driven by humans.
The report was developed with input from an advisory panel of experts representing the: American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA); American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO); Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS); ITS America; Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning; New York State Police; Pennsylvania Department of Transportation; Self Driving Coalition for Safer Streets; State Farm; and Waymo.
Survey research aggregated for the report shows that many consumers are skeptical about automation, but suggests that public support will grow as people learn more about AVs and are able to experience them first-hand, and if there is objective proof that the technology operates better than humans.
The report notes that self-driving technology short of full automation presents a number of important behavioral safety issues related to how operators and passengers use it. Inattention is of particular concern when operators expected to monitor driving may not do so as diligently as they should, and may not be able to quickly re-engage if distracted. Unlicensed operators also pose potential harm, as they may be able to activate an AV, but be prevented from taking over control of the vehicle if needed.
The report recommends that states:
• Consider laws requiring or assuming that a licensed driver is present in each vehicle, especially for AVs in which they may be called upon to take control;
• Update traffic laws to accommodate AVs and help to prepare driver licensing agencies to identify and register them;
• Establish law enforcement policies and procedures regarding AV operations and train all patrol officers in their application.
“States need to consider a number of new issues related to the practical deployment of this technology,” said Hedlund. “One of the most important goals should be to educate the public about the benefits and risks of this technology, how to use it safely, and drive near AVs in traffic.”
Jonathan Adkins, GHSA executive director, added, “As AV technology advances, states still must invest in programs to prioritize safe travel behavior.”