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Govs’ report: Public Skepticism of Autonomous Vehicles ‘High’

Autonomous vehicles are emerging faster than many people expected, but perhaps things should slow down a bit, suggests the Governors Highway Safety Association suggests

As reported by Fleet Owner, a report from the group representing state and territorial highway safety offices says various states have many issues and rules to consider before AVs are allowed unfettered on our highways.

Since states themselves are responsible for licensing drivers, registering vehicles, and establishing and enforcing traffic safety laws, the report says the states “should begin planning now to deal with the traffic safety issues presented when autonomous and driver-operated vehicles share the roads.

The GHSA report cites five recent studies that indicate knowledge of AVs among the public is limited, and trust is another thing entirely.

Fleet Owner:

The studies “show considerable skepticism about AVs currently, sometimes with twice as many negative responses as positive,” the report authors state. Further, only one out of six drivers say they’re willing to ride in an AV today, and only one out of three said they’d ride in an AV in 10 years. That widespread distrust simply could be a reaction to new technology that will ease over time, the report suggests, but it’s another good reason for states to address AVs.

It’s because of such realities that the report recommends states get ahead of autonomous vehicle testing and get involved setting new laws and parameters for their operation — before AVs start showing up en masse next to human-driven vehicles. States are advised to consider a number of things now, with that “not if but when” autonomous vehicle emergence unfolding more quickly than many realize.

It may be that AVs can be tested legally in most states under current laws, although conditions are in place in some cases such as a backup driver being required to have a hand on the steering wheel or at least be in the vehicle and ready to take control if necessary.

Even so, states could require each AV organization to apply for testing and specify autonomous vehicle, operator, safety plan and other information. The report notes that as of Dec. 2016, California, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Utah and the District of Columbia have enacted laws authorizing AV testing under certain conditions.

The report points out that there are a number of gray areas drivers encounter out on the road where AVs will need to make a decision, and “states should attempt to understand how AVs will resolve these conflicts.”

For example, a dog runs into the street in the AV’s path. Will the AV hit the dog, if it must, or swerve harshly and possibly crash into a tree? Or if there’s a parked vehicle ahead blocking the travel lane but the road is otherwise empty, will the AV cross over the double yellow center line — which is normally illegal — to get around the stopped car?

Another thing for states to consider now is law enforcement’s readiness to deal with self-driving vehicles.

That goes for officer safety: does AV operation pose risks to them? Can officers identify what level of autonomous operation a vehicle has — from 1-5 — and what rules and requirements apply to it? How do you pursue and conduct stops of AVs if necessary?

And here’s an interesting consideration: AVs conceivably could be used as “mules” to transport illegal goods and contraband. Criminals and terrorists could also wire an AV with explosives.

The question of liability regarding autonomous vehicles is also a significant issue that needs to be settled.

“Who’s responsible for a crash in which an AV is at least partially at fault: the ‘driver,’ the vehicle manufacturer, the software provider or some combination?” the report asks. The first step in this regard is for states to work out how they’ll determine an AV’s responsibility in a crash, and states will need to divvy up that liability for AVs between the vehicle’s manufacturers, software providers, owners, operators and others, according to the report.

The report raises these and a number of other questions for states concerning AVs, including more far-reaching effects such as what autonomous vehicles will mean for traffic lanes and design, interactions with pedestrians and cyclists and parking requirements.  In the meantime, the report recommends that states get informed on AVs, get involved, understand their role, don’t hurry but thoroughly consider legislation that’s enacted, and be flexible since “this is a new game.”

Full Fleet Owner report here.

GHSA report here.

Meanwhile, in related news, a report issued by the Department of Transportation regarding the high-profile 2016 crash involving a Tesla Model S and a tractor-trailer reached the conclusion. It determined the inattention of the Tesla’s driver was to blame for the crash. NHTSA says the car’s operator, who died in the collision, was leaning too heavily on the car’s driver assist systems, which failed to brake when a tractor-trailer crossed the road in front of the car.

The report’s key conclusion was that the car’s automatic emergency braking isn’t failsafe. Until the technology becomes more advanced, drivers shouldn’t rely on it, NHTSA concludes. Its findings are similar to that of the National Transportation Safety Board, who issued a report in July.

The Tesla at the time of the crash was in so-called Autopilot mode, a basic autonomous system that maintains the car’s lane and speed and features emergency braking assist. However, those features aren’t meant to be used to operate the vehicle — only to assist the driver or attempt to prevent a crash.

Full story here.

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