Eno, Virginia Review State Policies for Automated Vehicles

April 7, 2017

The automotive and tech industries have made significant progress in developing and implementing automated and semi-automated driving features for cars and trucks. The advent of automated vehicle (AV) technology is beginning to reshape traditional roles and responsibilities of government institutions at all levels.

State governments are facing mounting pressure to establish policies that will guide the safe testing and eventual deployment of this technology. Sifting through the AV hype and creating policy and investment plans that adapt to a fluctuating environment poses huge challenges to public officials.

On March 30, the Eno Center for Transportation organized a workshop in partnership with the Commonwealth of Virginia to tackle the most difficult issues in AV policy at the state level. Eno brought together top Virginia state officials and industry leaders to discuss how the Commonwealth can develop a dynamic regulatory structure for AVs that simultaneously emphasizes safety on public roads without stymieing innovation.

Virginia has already started putting together a policy framework for AVs, and has several connected and automated vehicle testing sites. In order to guide its strategy and policy for implementing this new technology, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) formed a stakeholder working group, Virginia Automated 20xx, to make recommendations to state agencies and officials for the state’s long range AV plan.

Prior to the workshop, Eno conducted extensive research of existing and proposed state policies for AVs, as well as the federal framework in which AVs will be regulated. This culminated in a draft white paper with specific implications, ideas, and recommendations to inform the workshop discussion.

State-level AV policy includes three primary areas where state governments are starting to adapt their policies and direct resources to prepare for AVs: regulations on testing and deployment, infrastructure investment and funding, and state-funded research and workforce training. Eno received detailed feedback on these and other topics throughout the workshop.

First, AVs are in their testing phase and AV developers at the workshop indicated they were open to states requiring permits and reporting of AV-related crashes on public roadways. It is important to not overdesign permitting and reporting requirements, but it can help public acceptance to have some kind of information-sharing system.

Therefore, when states are considering legislation or regulations for AVs, they should keep in mind that these activities will not necessarily attract or deter AV testing. And, policymakers may have good intentions when forming their laws, they should avoid overdesigning registration and reporting requirements for AV testing and deployment.

Second, the most important thing states can invest in is improving the condition of roadways. Some state transportation agencies may feel under pressure to integrate emerging vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology, states should refrain from making significant investments in the technology until more is known about its applications and the direction of its rapidly-changing development becomes more clear.

Instead, states can immediately work to benefit all road users by investing in improving roadway state of good repair. Manufacturers and tech firms are building AVs to operate on the roads of today, not the uncertain networks of tomorrow – this presents an opportunity to benefit all road users now and then, when the time comes, invest in additional safety-enhancing technology.

Although pilots for advanced connected technologies are important, removing potholes and improving lane striping can greatly assist testing and improve safety in the near term.

Finally, AVs have the ability to improve workforce conditions in the near and medium terms, particularly for bus and truck drivers. AVs can make the job less onerous and safer, and industry experts did not seem to feel threatened by a massive potential loss of jobs. Transit and trucking need to be at the table when discussing AV policy, particularly as it relates to workforce and safety issues.

Eno received and is continuing to review feedback from the auto manufacturers, tech firms, trade associations, and government officials present at the workshop on March 30. This feedback will be considered and incorporated into a final state AV policy paper, which Eno will release in May.

(From left: Rob Puentes, Eno President and CEO; Ronique Day, Assistant Secretary, Office of the Secretary of Transportation; Aubrey Layne, Virginia Secretary of Transportation)

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