Autonomous vehicles are driving new legislation across the nation and pilot tests are being rolled out. But for many citizens and legislators, the learning curve for autonomous vehicles (AVs) may still be quite steep and the desire to learn deep.
Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have AV legislation enacted — a number reflecting a significant uptick in the past few years. Governors in nine states, meanwhile, have signed AV-related executive orders. This wave of policymaking indicates a widespread acknowledgment that the technology is here, and states want to put the rules in place to protect citizen safety and encourage any economic development benefits to flow in their direction.
Let’s start with how they work. AV-related features and components are already in today’s cars, such as adaptive cruise control, warnings when the vehicle departs from the lane, and head-on collision-avoidance systems.
Clear definitions on the levels of autonomy ensure government and the private sector are on the same page when it comes to setting policy. However, autonomous vehicles could pump up to $2 trillion into the U.S. economy by 2050, according to research from Intel and research firm Strategy Analytics.
Tesla, for example, currently has high-end electric vehicles on the market that require humans to monitor the vehicle’s driving. Waymo, a self-driving car project under Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is far along in the process of developing Level 5 cars. The company’s AVs, for example, collectively drive approximately 25,000 autonomous miles per week, which is largely performed on city streets.
Across the nation, 10 sites were selected by the U.S. Department of Transportation as proving grounds to advance AV technology:
1. Contra Costa Transportation Authority GoMentum Station
Location: Concord, Calif., outside of San Francisco
Features: Located on the site of a former naval weapons station, GoMentum offers 5,000 acres of varied terrain (the largest secure test site in the world) with 20 miles of paved roadway focused on the testing of connected and autonomous vehicle technology.
2. San Diego Association of Governments
Location: San Diego, Calif.
Features: Three separate environments make up this site: the express lanes on Interstate 15, city streets in Chula Vista, Calif., and part of the South Bay Expressway. These diverse sites offer real-world conditions for AVs and CVs and their associated technology.
3. Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership
Location: Various sites, including the Texas A&M University System (11 locations); the University of Texas at Austin; and Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.
Features: The vast network of partners taps into existing transit testing facilities, many of which have been engaged in AV projects for several years. Other partners include the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, medical centers, ports and high-speed corridors.
4. Iowa City Area Development Group
Location: Iowa City, Iowa
Features: Home to the National Advanced Driving Simulator at the University of Iowa, this site offers both on-road and closed-course testing, as well as simulated transportation environments. AVs can test in different kinds of weather and on a variety of road surfaces.
5. University of Wisconsin-Madison
Location: Madison, Wis.
Features: With a variety of testing environments, the Wisconsin AV Proving Grounds is working on best practices for AV use in commercial trucking, addressing data security issues, advancing options to upgrade non-AVs with autonomous capabilities and overcoming perception problems in the way of widespread adoption, to name a few.
6. American Center for Mobility at Willow Run
Location: Between Ypsilanti and Belleville, Mich.
Features: The recently opened 500-acre proving ground started tests last December, taking advantage of infrastructure like double overpasses, intersections, roundabouts, a curved tunnel and a 2.5-mile loop of highway.
7. Pittsburgh and the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute
Location: Pittsburgh and the campus of Penn State University, University Park, Pa.
Features: In addition to a 1-mile oval-shaped test track, there’s an area for large vehicles and a course meant to test durability of cars and accessories.
8. U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center
Location: Outside of Aberdeen, Md.
Features: Established more than a century ago, the proving ground opened six months after the U.S. entered into World War I. Its designation as an AV test site suggests the facility will play a pivotal role in exploring how autonomous technologies can enhance U.S. military operations.
9. North Carolina Turnpike Authority
Location: North Carolina’s Triangle Expressway, about 20 miles west of Raleigh
Features: Ready access to several nearby research universities, a trait shared by many other test sites, as well as 19 miles of fiber optics that enable electronic tolling, live feeds and pavement sensors, should shed light on changes needed to road signs and markings for AVs.
10. Central Florida Automated Vehicle Partners
Location: Locations throughout central Florida, including several universities, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the city of Orlando, expressways, interstates and a dedicated high-speed AV and tolling test center in Polk County.
Features: Driver-Assisted Truck Platooning will be tested on nearly 150 miles of State Route 91 from Orlando to Palm Beach, while the SunTrax facility will occupy 475 acres, 200 of which will be dedicated to testing emerging AV-related tech.
Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration points to the number of fatalities that occur on America’s roadways and the potential of AVs to reduce those numbers, consumers are still wary of autonomous vehicles given a number of high-profile crashes.
A survey by AAA conducted in early April revealed that 73 percent of drivers in the U.S. are fearful of riding in a fully autonomous vehicle — up from 63 percent at the end of 2017, likely due to a couple of widely reported fatalities. The group whose confidence dropped the most during that period was millennials: 64 percent reported being fearful, an increase of 15 percent from the December 2017 survey.
According to McKinsey, by the year 2030, the car data industry could be worth as much as $750 million. So far, driverless shuttles are out in front of the move to populate the streets with autonomous vehicles. While Las Vegas and San Ramon, Calif., have shuttles in regular use, dozens of other pilots are underway or planned across the country.
Some industry watchers say there is a race against time to have AVs roaming freely on U.S. roads before the baby boomers reach a point where a vast majority cannot drive. With the number of Americans age 65 and older expected to soar to 83.7 million by 2050, nearly a third of states don’t yet have autonomous vehicle legislation enacted or an executive order in place.