Michigan DOT’s Kirk Steudle Tells Congress Investment in Autonomous Vehicle Research Will Lead to Improved Safety and Mobility

AASHTO News, 19 November 2013

WASHINGTON — Emerging technologies have the potential to significantly reduce vehicle crashes and associated fatalities, according to testimony today before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.

Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation and the 2011 president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, today testified on Capitol Hill about the many ways autonomous vehicles will shape the future of surface transportation.

The Subcommittee on Highways and Transit hearing explored the federal policies that may be necessary for the integration of autonomous vehicles into the nation’s highway infrastructure system.

“Nothing is more exciting than the potential safety benefits of this emerging technology,” said Steudle. “In 2011, 5.3 million vehicle crashes in the U.S. resulted in 32,000 fatalities and more than 2.2 million injuries. The use of sensory and communications equipment to enable vehicles to speak to each other and the surrounding roadway infrastructure has the potential to significantly reduce the number of traffic crashes and save countless lives.”

Appearing on behalf of AASHTO, Steudle testified that the goal is to build the safest and most efficient transportation system imaginable, by creating crash-free vehicles; vehicles that can drive themselves; and vehicles, drivers, and transportation infrastructure that safely, securely, and reliably share real-time information.

Valuable insight into the deployment of these advanced systems is being shaped by significant state DOT research programs underway in Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, New York, and Virginia. The largest of these research projects is the Safety Pilot Model Deployment Program lead by the Michigan Department of Transportation, in conjunction with major auto manufactures and the USDOT. Researchers in Ann Arbor are testing how well vehicle safety technologies and operating systems work in a real-life environment with real drivers and vehicles.

“This will be an evolutionary process,” said Steudle. “It will require many years of additional research, development, and testing. Funding this major investment is critical because it will lead to an understanding of the breadth of possible operating scenarios and implications that autonomous and connected vehicle technology will have on society and on our transportation system as a whole.”

Steudle outlined several challenges including funding the hardware investment needed to equip vehicles and to retrofit the roadway infrastructure with new technologies while simultaneously investing in current roadway preservation and reconstruction projects; gaining widespread public acceptance of driverless and interconnected vehicles; and addressing the privacy and electronic security risks, such as viruses or hacking, which could potentially threaten these new systems.

Steudle encouraged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to make its decision this year on requiring connected vehicle technology for passenger vehicles, including announcing whether the agency will move forward with a rule to require installation of vehicle-to-vehicle technologies in new passenger cars.

Steudle also recommended that Congress fund research into autonomous and connected vehicle technologies and that lawmakers support the continuing collaboration between USDOT, the state DOTs, and automakers around the world. Steudle also urged the protection of the 5.9 GHz bandwidth for use by the connected-vehicle program.

“We need a coordinated effort to effectively prepare our nation for the sea-change in the way surface transportation will function in the future,” said Steudle.

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