Potential benefits of CAVs include:
- Safer roadways
- Less congestion
- More reliable travel times
- Lower air pollution and greenhouse emissions
- Improved, more equitable mobility for underserved populations, including older adults, people with disabilities, and people who do not drive
As CAV numbers continue to increase, state transportation agencies are likely to play a role in shaping relevant regulations, policies, and practices. This section explores major challenges agencies will need to consider.
Division of Governmental Responsibilities
The NHTSA will maintain its responsibility for setting Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) and certifying vehicle compliance prior to sale. The USDOT is beginning to establish regulations for safely testing and deploying ADS on public roads. In 2017, the agency proposed voluntary guidance for manufacturers that build ADS-equipped vehicles. Recommendations focused on system safety, operational design domain, object and event detection and response, interactions between a vehicle and its driver, and cybersecurity. The USDOT has urged automakers working on ADS testing and deployment to document how they operationalize best practices and guidance through the publication of Voluntary Safety-Self Assessments that are made available to the public. In early 2020, NHTSA published a notice of proposed rulemaking to set vehicle safety standards related to occupant protection for vehicles without a steering wheel or foot pedals. This was followed by two developments in late 2020. First, the issuance of an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking for an ADS safety framework. And second, the FHWA published a Request for Information on integrating ADS into the proposed Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) update. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is proposing regulations to accommodate ADS in commercial motor vehicles.
At the state level, governments will maintain responsibility for:
- Licensing and registration
- Establishing and enforcing traffic laws and regulations
- Regulating motor vehicle insurance
- Conducting CMV safety inspections (where applicable)
State agencies should consider how CAVs will impact these functions and determine if they will need to be modified. Coordination between state governments is likely necessary to achieve regulatory consistency and guarantee the seamless interstate movement of CAVs.
The National Safety Council estimates that in 2020 over 42,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes. Transportation industry stakeholders see the enormous potential for CAVs to prevent collisions as well as collision-related non-fatal and fatal injuries. Although a vehicle fleet composed entirely of self-driving vehicles would minimize crash-related injuries and fatalities, it is unclear how long it will take for enough vehicles equipped with Level 3 — 5 automation systems to appear on roads to significantly reduce collisions. All state transportation agencies — including KYTC —need to examine the safety implications of mixed vehicle fleets, focus on preventing serious crashes, and identify strategies to bolster safety across entire fleets as the transition toward greater automation proceeds.
Often, identifying the human motorist liable for a crash is not a straightforward task. The presence of AVs on roads will complicate efforts to establish liability. Under current laws, liability applies to the person operating the vehicle. For AV testing, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) recommends that states require all Level 4 or 5 vehicles to carry minimum liability insurance. Registered owners of vehicles equipped with Level 4 or 5 automation systems should also be held responsible for maintaining all vehicle equipment and systems in good condition and ensuring vehicles operate in a manner consistent with jurisdictional laws. Another challenge is the question of product liability. For example, one question to answer is: If an AV strikes and injures (or kills) a motorist, pedestrian, or bicyclist, will manufacturers be liable given that the system on the vehicle would have operationalized a set of decision rules that resulted in the injury?
Enforcing traffic laws will become more complex as CAV numbers increase. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GSHA 2018) highlighted challenges that transportation agencies, law enforcement agencies, and attorneys general should tackle cooperatively. Issues include:
- Establishing procedures to let police officers identify an ADS
- Creating protocols to facilitate communication between police officers and ADS-equipped vehicles & their occupants
- Adopting modified crash response procedures for incidents involving AVs
Self-driving vehicles strictly adhere to the rules of the road. As more of these vehicles occupy our roadways, humans manually operating other vehicles may respond in unpredictable ways as they do not necessarily abide by traffic laws consistently. Law enforcement may have to step up patrol activities until mixed vehicle fleets become common. Also, procedures for using AV-generated data to monitor traffic, identify congested areas, locate crashes, and perform crash investigations need to be established.
Cybersecurity and Privacy Issues
CAVs generate tremendous amounts of data and rely on infrastructure tied into vast digital networks. Agencies need to update and bolster security, improve system resiliency, and safeguard personally identifiable information to mitigate risks to state-owned infrastructure and all vehicle types. Private and public entities will need to work together to secure private data transmission.
State of Good Repair
Optimizing CAV performance demands that agencies maintain roads in a state of good repair and potentially adopt new practices for road markings, paving, and signage. Many states — including Kentucky — are beginning to require use of 6-inch stripes that are brighter than their predecessors. Along with installing clear lane markings and visible signage, agencies should prioritize maintenance practices that increase pavement uniformity. Other strategies for improving design and geometrics include enhancing lane divisions, use of traffic-calming devices (e.g., roundabouts), lowering speed limits, and installing guardrails and other roadside structures that lessen crash severity. These practices will also benefit human drivers and create a safer road system.
Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT)
Researchers have observed that lower transportation costs combined with the greater mobility afforded by CAVs — in particular AVs — could increase VMT. Enhanced mobility and attendant economic growth are laudable goals, but another important factor to consider is the negative consequences of increased VMT. If VMT goes up, the environmental benefits of CAVs could be offset by greater air pollution and emissions. Similarly, an increase in VMT may add to congestion woes. No research has yet fully studied to what extent higher VMT would offset the benefits emerging vehicle technologies confer. Any study would also have to consider the impacts of vehicle electrification and effects of mixed vehicle fleets.
What role CAVs are going to play in our future transportation system will come into focus over the next 10 to 20 years. The Cabinet believes these vehicles will help the agency deliver on its mission by preventing non-injury and fatal crashes, stimulating economic activity, strengthening the mobility of populations underserved by the current transportation system, and potentially mitigating congestion.