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Self-Driving Cars: U.S. Department of Transportation Designates 10 Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds

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author photo by Russ Heaps January 2017

Slow to arrive at the self-driving cars party, the federal government has suddenly kicked into high gear. After NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) first identified the five ascending levels of autonomous driving in 2013, the government fell uncharacteristically mute on anything related to autonomous vehicles (AVs).

That changed in September of last year, when the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued the 116-page Federal Automated Vehicles Policy-September 2016 (FAVP), which included a new 6-level list of autonomous driving definitions as created by SAE International. It also contained all manner of guidelines regarding testing of autonomous technologies and the procedures for the reporting of that testing to the DOT.

Quickly following its September policy paper, the DOT just issued a statement in mid-January designating 10 official proving grounds as pilot sites for testing and sharing autonomous technologies.

The DOT Effect

Virtually all the experts agree that at some point AVs will significantly reduce traffic accidents, injuries and deaths. The majority of traffic mishaps (90 percent by most estimates) are caused by human error: drunk driving, falling asleep at the wheel, distracted driving, failing to yield and so forth. For the most part, these types of crashes would be eliminated by self-driving cars.

Improving highway safety is a core mission for the DOT; consequently, anything promoting the development of autonomous technologies and AVs could eventually translate into the DOT achieving one of its main goals. The sooner, the better; so the DOT is doing what it can to move the process along. Establishing a network of proving grounds for safely testing autonomous technologies and sharing safe practices, according to the DOT, should serve to speed things up.

The Designation Process

Shortly after it released its FAVP last fall, the DOT began soliciting proposals for parties interested in participating in the pilot proving-grounds program. It looked at such criteria as a willingness and ability to share and disseminate information, proof of capable safety planning, and an ability to show that all applicable laws, regulations and policies are strictly followed at all times. They also had to provide facilities capable of gauging safety, managing a variety of roadways and conditions, and handling various types of vehicles.

More than 60 applicants, including academic institutions, state DOTs, cities and private entities, responded. From these, the DOT chose 10.

The List

  • City of Pittsburgh and the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute
  • Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership
  • U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center (Maryland)
  • American Center for Mobility at Willow Run (Michigan)
  • Contra Costa Transportation Authority & GoMentum Station (California)
  • San Diego Association of Governments (California)
  • Iowa City Area Development Group (Iowa)
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Central Florida Automated Vehicle Partners
  • North Carolina Turnpike Authority

What it means to you: The DOT stepping in and designating sites for the safe testing of self-driving cars and autonomous technologies should reduce some of the red tape required for permitting and licensing AV testing. It remains to be seen how much sharing of proprietary information these software and technology developers are willing to do, but you never know.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Self-Driving Cars: U.S. Department of Transportation Designates 10 Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds - Autotrader