Staying on Course to Advance Self-Driving Vehicles
By Sen. John Thune
Each year, more than 35,000 people die in automobile accidents on our nation’s roads. Approximately 90 percent of those accidents can be attributed to human error, which is why self-driving or automated vehicles (AVs) present an opportunity to make incredible gains in the safe movement of people and goods on our roads. South Dakotans are already familiar with automation, which has brought several economic, safety, and efficiency benefits to the agriculture sector, and I believe South Dakota also stands to benefit greatly from the deployment of AVs.
These vehicles have the potential to greatly improve mobility and quality of life for all Americans, especially the disabled and the elderly, whose mobility is often limited by a lack of viable transportation options. And this emerging technology will also allow planners to reimagine civic challenges and opportunities like parking and traffic flow, making roads safer and less congested.
Back in 2017, when I chaired the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, I introduced the American Vision for Safer Transportation Through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies – or AV START Act – which, if enacted, would provide the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) with new tools to safely test and deploy AVs.
AVs will only be able to operate safely when the companies developing them are certain these vehicles can safely react to driving situations we all encounter each day. That is why AV testing is so critical. It ensures AVs are capable of safely navigating roadways and constantly changing traffic conditions. DOT recently launched the Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing, or AV TEST Initiative, to facilitate greater awareness and engagement by industry, consumers, and the general public as AV testing becomes increasingly prevalent across the nation.
While Congress is often slow to react to new technologies, I remain committed to working in a bipartisan manner to ensure a strong legislative framework is put in place to promote the safe deployment of these vehicles. Any AV legislation should preserve the traditional roles of federal and state regulators, build on DOT’s current efforts to update regulatory requirements that were not written with AVs in mind, and continue to expand AV testing and data collection.
I’m optimistic the AV TEST Initiative will encourage the development of advanced solutions to improve vehicle safety, while providing necessary data to inform safe and nationally consistent rules for AVs. Importantly, this initiative will promote engagement by industry stakeholders and the public in the development of AV testing guidelines at the federal level.
This engagement is critical for acceptance of AVs by the general public and to ensure that we can all feel safe around AVs undergoing roadway testing. I’m glad that DOT launched this important initiative, and I look forward to continuing my efforts to harness the safety, quality of life, and economic benefits of this critical emerging technology.