Michigan DOT Director Talks Autonomous Vehicles at House T&I Hearing on Capitol Hill

AASHTO Journal, 22 November 2013

On Tuesday, Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle joined several transportation and technology experts at a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing to discuss autonomous vehicles, focusing on the technology’s benefits and the next steps to move the technology forward.

Speaking on behalf of AASHTO and the state transportation departments across the country, Steudle made three concise points with regard to autonomous vehicles and the future of the nation’s transportation system in his testimony (see Steudle’s written testimony here¬†and a video of his opening statement here). First, he said that the ultimate goal is and should remain delivering the “safest and most efficient transportation system imaginable, and it may be possible to achieve this goal with accident-free vehicles, vehicles that can drive themselves.” Steudle’s second point was that acceptance and use of the autonomous vehicle technology would be “challenging and evolutionary,” prompting many years of further research, development, and testing. Finally, Steudle stressed the fact that there are tasks to complete today in order to move forward with the driverless vehicle technology to prepare for future use, such as encouraging NHTSA to make its decision on requiring connected vehicle technology for passenger vehicles (expected by the end of the year), protecting the 5.9 GHz bandwidth for the connected vehicle program, funding research to better understand all operating scenarios associated with the technology, and supporting cooperation between state transportation departments, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and global automakers.

Aside from Steudle, witnesses included National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland, General Motors Vice President of Sustainability and Global Regulatory Affairs Mike Robinson, Nissan Technical Center North America Senior Manager of Technology Planning Andrew Christensen, Dr. Raj Rajkumar of the Carnegie Mellon University, and Eno Center for Transportation President and CEO Dr. Joshua Schank. The hearing, held by the House T&I Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, was led by Subcommittee Chair Tom Petri (R-WI). Petri kicked off the hearing by expressing his hope for the technology, as well as what he hoped to gain from the hearing.

“Vehicles and the infrastructure they utilize are becoming increasingly integrated with computer technology which has the potential to revolutionize highway safety and mobility in America,” Petri said in his opening statement. “In order to see these benefits come to fruition, federal and state officials should begin planning for the benefits and challenges that autonomous vehicles will bring to the future of our nation’s surface transportation system. I hope today’s hearing will provide our Committee Members with insight into this important issue.”

Strickland echoed Steudle’s assertion that safety is and will remain top priority when it comes to considering autonomous vehicles and that autonomous vehicles could be an excellent tool in making the nation’s roadways safer.

“The promise of advanced vehicles that can avoid crashes is extremely bright,” Strickland said. “While there are certainly risks with any emerging technology, I firmly believe that, when this risk is properly identified, understood, and mitigated, we can minimize it and fully reap the potential benefits.”

Additional information on the hearing, including all witnesses’ written testimony and a video of the entire hearing, is available here.

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