In a previous post, Renaissance’s Dan Hardy provided an introduction to the concept of autonomous, or automated, vehicles. The implications of this technology have been widely discussed, from safety improvements, reduced insurance costs, and the prospects for transit. In a study done by the Eno Center for Transportation, it is estimated that when autonomous vehicles make up 90 percent of the market share, almost 22,000 lives will be saved and there will be over four million fewer crashes each year. This, combined with other cost savings and benefits, equates to a comprehensive cost savings of $447.1 billion per year. Another consideration is the impact this will have on public transit. If one day autonomous vehicles can essentially perform the duties of transit, what will this mean for public transit as we know it? While transit will certainly still be needed in larger cities, should smaller cities, such as Tampa, be so set on building costly light rail systems that may soon be unnecessary, particularly since Florida is one of the leaders in testing this technology?
Autonomous Vehicles in Florida
Florida is among the states leading the way to develop and test this technology, and is one of three states that have passed legislation allowing automated vehicles to be tested on public roads. Recently announced, Tampa’s Selmon Expressway will be one of ten test sites in the country where researchers can study the safety and performance of automated vehicles. A second Florida test site will be in downtown Orlando. The vehicles will be tested on the elevated lanes of the expressway while the lanes are closed to traffic. Local and state officials hope to make Florida a leader in automated vehicle technology. Joe Waggoner, Executive Director of the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority said of the vehicles that “We think this is a coming revolution in transportation. A lot of the technology is there. What it comes down to is moving it into practice. We want to know what it takes and be a part of it.”
Although it is hard to imagine a future consisting of driverless cars on the road, it is a future that will likely occur within the next several decades. In fact, steps to enable this kind of technology are already beginning to take shape at the federal level.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently announced that it will begin enabling vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology for light vehicles. V2V safety applications being developed provide warnings to drivers so that they can prevent collisions, but do not automatically operate any vehicle systems, such as braking or steering. While this technology is not at the level of autonomous vehicle technology, it is the first baby steps towards making this technology widespread. Eventually, the federal government could require V2V technology in all new vehicles.
Research done over the past couple of years to test the technology indicates that the safety applications will address a large majority of vehicle crashes – between 70 and 80 percent! Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said of the new technology that “Vehicle-to-vehicle technology represents the next generation of auto safety improvements, building on the life-saving achievements we’ve already seen with safety belts and air bags,…By helping drivers avoid crashes, this technology will play a key role in improving the way people get where they need to go…”