TO THE EDITOR:
One day, a fully automated vehicle may drive you to work, take your elderly parents to the doctor or deliver packages to your doorstep. With the appropriate testing, safety protocols and public trust, this transformational future could come sooner than you think.
Last week, NHTSA launched a program to promote transparency, safety and public engagement in the development and testing of automated driving systems. The Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing (AV TEST) Initiative is the first platform connecting the public, manufacturers, operators and all levels of government to share information about the road testing of prototype automated driving systems.
Nine companies — Beep, Cruise, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Local Motors, Navya, Nuro, Toyota, Uber and Waymo — and eight states — California, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and Utah — have already committed to this initiative, signifying that transparency and education are critical as this technology continues to develop.
A common misconception about the technology is its availability to the public today. Currently, there are no vehicles with automated driving systems available for sale to the public. Every vehicle on the road today requires an engaged, attentive driver in control of the vehicle and ready to act at any time — and every state will hold that driver responsible as if they were in the driver's seat.
In addition, they could save lives. By allowing vehicles to operate without a driver, they have the potential to reduce the number of fatal crashes that involve human error and poor choices. These technologies may also improve mobility for underserved communities, including for people with disabilities and senior citizens.
Once these technologies have been tested and proven, public trust will be key to their adoption — and to fulfilling their lifesaving potential. The AV TEST Initiative will be a critical resource to educate the public about these vehicles, the scope of road testing and the stakeholders involved.
The AV TEST Initiative will provide an online, public-facing platform for sharing automated driving system road testing activities and other relevant information at the local, state and national levels. It will feature an online mapping tool that will show road testing locations, as well as testing activity data such as dates, frequency, vehicle counts and routes. The initiative will also include a series of meetings across the country to promote public engagement and knowledge-sharing about safety in the development and testing of automated driving system-equipped vehicles.
Under the leadership of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao, NHTSA and the Department of Transportation are committed to the safe testing, development and eventual deployment of advanced-vehicle safety technologies. Enhanced transparency and information sharing will be the key to bolstering public confidence and ensuring the safest automated driving systems.
JAMES OWENS, Washington, D.C., The writer is the deputy administrator of NHTSA.