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Senators Pen Letter to Support Federal Funding of Autonomous Vehicle Proving Grounds

Nine senators warned that if the country falls behind on connected and autonomous vehicle technologies, the rest of the world will surpass the United States.

by / April 11, 2017
An aerial view of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory University of Wisconsin-Madison

In a letter to leaders of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies, nine senators expressed the need for “robust funding” to be set aside for the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) 10 designated proving grounds.

These proving ground test sites, launched during former DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx’s tenure, formed a Community of Practice to share best practices and operating data.

“It is critical that the federal government play a leadership role in ensuring connected autonomous vehicle (CAV) technologies are safely developed and tested in a thorough and thoughtful manner, aligned with voluntary industry standards,” the nine senators wrote (PDF) in the letter addressed to chairperson Susan Collins, R-Maine, and ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I.

The nine senators — Gary Peters, D-Mich.; Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; and Bill Nelson, D-Fla. — all represent states where a proving-ground site was chosen. Sites were also chosen in California, Pennsylvania and Texas.

As the subcommittee begins to allocate funding recommendations for the fiscal year 2018 budget, the group of senators warns that if the United States lags in funding this “revolutionary and life-saving technology,” the rest of the world will follow suit and slow down.

“Connected and autonomous vehicles are going to be developed internationally if we do not take the lead in making sure these technologies are advanced right here in the United States,” the letter reads. “USDOT must now be given the resources to work quickly to ensure that testing and evaluation of these facilities can begin as soon as possible.”

While the new administration has not said much officially on its commitment to the progress and programs started under Foxx, Secretary Elaine Chao has lauded the innovative spirit of American entrepreneurs and said she wants to give the private sector the space to develop these technologies.

During the National Governors Association Conference in February, Chao stated the department was currently evaluating the autonomous vehicles guidance issued last September.

“The new automated technologies have the potential of dramatically changing commercial transportation and private travel, expanding access for millions within our borders,” Chao said at the conference. “Automated technology has the potential to help eliminate human error and reduce crashes and fatalities significantly.”