NHTSA Illuminates the Scope of AV Development
July 31, 2020—In June, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced a data-sharing initiative that would promote cooperation among a whole bunch of stakeholders in autonomous vehicle development.
Called Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing, or AV TEST, the program is meant to improve lines of communication between all the different entities that are working toward driverless technology. That includes companies that develop the vehicles and underlying technology, as well as a large number of government agencies that need to keep up with developments to provide the correct regulation, enforcement and public infrastructure to allow for autonomous vehicles.
On July 16, a web conference hosted by the NHTSA underscored the array of groups involved. The event featured five officials from various organizations who talked about their involvement in AV TEST.
In his introduction, NHTSA Deputy Administrator James C. Owens said that 19 states and companies have signed on to the AV TEST data-sharing initiative so far. They include some of the bigger names in AV technology, including Cruise, Toyota, Waymo, Fiat Chrysler and more.
“By joining this initiative, companies and governments can show the public their commitment to transparency and education as this technology continues to develop,” Owens said.
It was clear from the presentations that a big hurdle for AV technology to become more common on roadways is to address public concerns over driverless vehicles.
Part of the solution is making sure that government officials who deal most often with the public know about current technologies. One outlet is through driver’s education courses. Anne Ferro, president and CEO of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, says that education about current ADAS technologies needs to improve.
“Making sure that drivers understand that the safety technology in vehicles today help drivers avoid crashes,” she said.
The organization, which represents public officials who oversee vehicle administration, law enforcement and highway safety, has had an autonomous vehicles subcommittee working group since 2014 and has been developing guidelines for driver's ed examiners to address current ADAS technologies and future autonomous levels. There are also guidelines for licensing and law enforcement officials.
Ferro said that these are important issues to address now, particularly as testing ramps up.
“Automated driving systems, complete AV, are not on the roads today other than in testing mode,” she said. “But even in testing mode, first responders have to respond to the scene.”
Law enforcement is another main conduit for public education. Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, said that his organization has heard too many stories about drivers turning off ADAS features, mitigating or eliminating any safety advantages.
“Education has to be widespread,” he said. “There has to be some cooperation.”
Finally, a national network of departments of transportation will need to work at a high level of cooperation with guidance from the national level to bring consistent state-to-state autonomous solutions to roadways.
King Gee is the director of safety and mobility at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. The organization represents state-level departments of transportation.
Gee’s comments reflected the long road ahead for full autonomy on roadways.
“These activities need to be done in coordination with partners that manufacturer AVs, with companies that operate AV fleets, and the communities they serve,” he said.