ITE Journal - April 2020 - 20

| op/ed

Flexibility is Needed on the Long, Winding
Road to an Automated Vehicle Future
By Yassmin
Gramian,
Acting Secretary,
Pennsylvania
Department of
Transportation

20

Apri l 2020

When considering the far-reaching benefits to our
transportation system and the broader society that
automated vehicles offer the future, it's not difficult to
understand why so many transportation planners and
engineers-including me-enthusiastically embrace
vehicle automation. The vision of vastly safer movement
of people and goods, expanding mobility options for the
traveling public, shrinking logistics costs to the economy, and optimizing operational efficiency to reduce
congestion and its consequent pollution is nothing short
of a transportation utopia.
Alas, like most utopian visions, an array of complicated problems must be resolved, and unintended
effects addressed before we will get to enjoy the promised milk and honey.
To put the spotlight on just a couple of the more
ornery issues: first, public opinion has grown increasingly
concerned about the growing role of smart technology in
our lives, and in survey after survey displays particular
skepticism about the notion of safe vehicular automation;
second, the initial over-the-top hype about how soon
automated vehicle technology would be ready for general
use has given way to a more realistic recognition of just
how far automated driving systems currently are from
mastering the myriad challenges.1,2,3
In short, these factors suggest we are in for a long,
winding, and bumpy journey of transition in which conventional and automated vehicles will be sharing all or
parts of the roadway, and the driving environment will
be distinguished by an unprecedented and unpredictable mix of human and machine operators interacting
with each other.
In order to overcome these obstacles and reach our
goals, it's natural to want to accelerate the progress
of automation as swiftly as possible. After all, we are
talking about the potential to all but erase the 35,000plus crash fatalities per year, not to mention the untold
misery to and costs of care for the millions of crash
survivors who are seriously injured and disabled.4
Yet it's equally important that development of automated and vehicle (AV) technologies advance prudently,
mindful of the first requirement to ensure the safety of
the traveling public, be they self-driving evangelists or
techno-phobic nay-sayers.

i te j o urn al

The Role of the States

As stewards of the transportation system, state DOTs,
along with our federal government counterparts, are
tasked with the responsibility of striking that fine balance between safety and innovation.
Thus far, several different approaches are being tried
by various states-and in a few cases by cities-and
no consensus has yet emerged as to the best governing
model. Some jurisdictions, notably California, prefer a
relatively robust regulatory structure, while others like
Florida and Michigan have undertaken a more permissive approach.
In Pennsylvania, where our second largest
city-Pittsburgh-is not only the cradle of vehicle
automation, but also one of the global epicenters
of its ongoing research and development, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's (PennDOT)
approach to AV governance can best be described in
one word: flexible.
Unlike our sister jurisdictions that are also leaders
in AV development, PennDOT's safety requirements
for automated vehicle testers set firm guidelines, but
they can be readily changed-whether they need to be
fine-tuned or revised wholesale-by an ongoing, collaborative process that enlists the stakeholders from all
sides of the matter to find common-ground solutions.
Moreover, PennDOT's Automated Vehicle Testing
Guidance is a not a mandatory regime, but a voluntary commitment by the AV testers to comply with
PennDOT's safety provisions.5 To date, all the known
organizations actively testing AV technologies on Pennsylvania roadways have signed on.

A National Review of
Testing Safety
As part of its investigation of the 2018 crash in Tempe,
AZ, USA, in which a test vehicle operating in autonomous mode killed a pedestrian crossing the roadway,
the National Transportation Safety Board reviewed
various state AV safety regimes and told us of their
favorable assessment of Pennsylvania's "common-sense"
approach. Some elements of our Guidance even
informed the recommendations that the NTSB team
offered in their report.6



ITE Journal - April 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of ITE Journal - April 2020

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