Under Secretary Highlights DOT’s Work in Automated Vehicles at GHSA Annual Meeting

September 4, 2018

The Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) held its Annual Meeting in Atlanta last week. The theme of this year’s meeting was “Getting to Zero: Partnerships in Traffic Safety.” GHSA represents state and territorial highway departments, and focuses on behavioral safety. On the final day of the meeting, Under Secretary for Transportation Policy Derek Kan led off a roundtable discussion with remarks on DOT’s efforts to improve safety using vehicle automation.

Under Secretary Kan’s remarks focused on applying new technology in transportation to advance DOT’s goals in transportation safety. His remarks focused on two broad topics: automated vehicle (AV) testing and deployment, and data integration and analytics.

Testing and Development

Under Secretary Kan led off his remarks by noting that the adoption of AVs can save lives and that billions of dollars are already being spent by the private sector to bring AVs to regular operations on roads. Under Secretary Kan highlighted that an increasing number of states, academic institutions, and private companies are developing and testing AV technology, and that most of this testing is occurring outside of the USDOT AV Proving Grounds program, stating that “outside the 10 USDOT proving grounds, a lot is happening, and few of the designated proving grounds have shown any results.”

There are 10 USDOT designated proving ground sites around the country. The sites were selected from 60 applicants from around the country. The USDOT Proving Ground program is intended to “collectively form a Community of Practice around safe testing and deployment” according to former Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. The proving grounds were announced on Secretary Foxx’s final day in office in January 2017. The designation was not tied to any funding, and the selected sites ranged from well-established groups to those looking to establish themselves in AV testing and development.

Consistent with the Under Secretary’s comments, there is to be little publicly available information on the program. The DOT website for automated vehicle activities does not link to any reports on the AV Proving Grounds program, and a privately hosted website displays little information other than the list of partners. While each of the partners has reported on their own progress, it is difficult to understand what the program has contributed to each without a comprehensive report or outline of the program itself.

The future of the USDOT AV Proving Grounds program is unclear. One of the four goals listed in DOT’s Strategic Plan for 2018-2022 is the “Lead in the development and deployment of innovative practices and technologies that improve the safety and performance of the Nation’s Transportation System.” While several other AV programs are specifically called out as advancing objectives for this goal, the Proving Ground program is not mentioned anywhere in the document. It is also not mentioned in DOT’s recently released Comprehensive Management Plan for Automated Vehicle Initiatives, which outlines DOT’s AV activities and programs.

Data analytics and integration

Under Secretary Kan also highlighted DOT’s work on data analytics and integration, noting that DOT houses over 900 datasets, and that more can be done to use this data to improve safety on the nation’s transportation network. Kan cited the Safety Data Initiative as an example of DOT’s work to collaborate with the private sector to improve safety with data analytics. Through this initiative, DOT has used Waze data to estimate when a crash occurred within 24 hours. Current data systems used by states typically rely on police crash reports and medical records to report crashes, and data typically is not reported for several weeks. While this data cannot replace those data systems, it can supplement current data systems and provide preliminary data quickly. Kan noted that combining data from federal and private data sets is time consuming and difficult, but partnerships are crucial to leverage data and talent from the public and private sector.

Last, Under Secretary Kan noted that AV 3.0, the Department’s updated policy document on automated vehicles, is likely to be released sometime in the next 2 months. Notably, AV 3.0 will be multimodal, and include guidance for AVs in transit, trucks, rail, and port operations. The Under Secretary did not reveal any further information that might be featured in AV 3.0.


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