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SWUTC Research Project Description

Policy Implications of Automated Vehicles on Texas Highways

University: Texas A&M University

Principal Investigator:
Ginger Goodin
Texas Transportation Institute
(512) 467-0946

Project Monitor:
John Moddox
(734) 763-6243

Funding Source: USDOT

Total Project Cost: $39,600

Project Number: 600451-00029

Date Started: 1/7/13

Estimated Completion Date: 12/31/14

Project Summary

Project Abstract:
Automated vehicles are a recent topic of great interest in the transportation community. This revolutionary application of technologies could result in a variety of transformative changes to our entire society. The resulting impacts could include improved safety, reduced congestion and diminished negative environmental impacts, increased mobility, and many others.

The existing transportation network and policy environment was not developed with the purpose of handling automated vehicles. As such, many areas may need to adapt to the implementation of these new technologies: the current infrastructure may need renovations; some agency’s roles, practices, and ability to interoperate may require reexamining; and legal questions such as liability will need review. This report will examine and discuss these issues and many more to ascertain the policy impacts from automated vehicles on Texas roadways.

Project Objectives:
The objectives of this project are to explore policy implications for future introduction of automated vehicles in Texas, and provide technical information to support policy discussion and direction.  Specifically:

  • Document the state of research and development of automated vehicles – from partial through full automation – and associated field-testing in the U.S and internationally, including potential transition scenarios and timelines based on the literature.
  • Identify the considerations and tradeoffs that must be considered to develop a policy framework in support of future deployment. Examples of the questions to be addressed:
    • How will Texas transition to a road environment with automated vehicles?  What is the business model?  Will deployment be entirely market-led, or will the public sector shape automated mobility?
    • How will Texas’ infrastructure factor into the transition to automated vehicles?
    • What are the economic impacts and development opportunities for Texas, particularly if Texas moves forward as an early adopter?
    • How should Texas invest its resources to support implementation, and how might automated vehicles change investment strategies?
    • What roles do state and local government agencies play in the transition and implementation processes? What areas will require intergovernmental and interagency coordination and collaboration? What is the state’s relationship to research and development activities at the federal level and with other states?
    • What are the legal and liability issues that must be considered?

Task Descriptions:
Task 1: Literature Review/Defining the State of Practice

The research team will review the available literature to gain an understanding of the current state of the practice in automated vehicles and related policy issues. The review will identify the necessary information to perform later interviews and analyses. The review will draw on scholarly literature, technical publications, governmental reports, and other sources. Topics covered will include

  • Economic and societal impacts;
  • Infrastructure management;
  • Governance and administration;
  • Privacy and liability; and
  • Impact on long-range planning process.

Task 2: Interview Subject Matter Experts            
The second task will involve interviewing subject matter experts (SMEs) to gain additional knowledge unavailable through traditional electronic mediums. The interviews will also serve as a means to gain a deeper understanding and insight of the issues at hand. The research team will identify SMEs by leveraging existing TTI contacts, networks, and reaching out to cultivate new relationships. The SMEs will be from various fields, but will likely include representation from

  • Google and other technology providers;
  • State, local, and federal governmental personnel;
  • Individuals from the automotive industry;
  • Individuals involved in the development of ITS; and
  • Other sources.

The interviews will likely require approximately thirty minutes to an hour. Completion of the interviews will require approval of the Institutional Review Board at Texas A&M University. In-person interviews will be preferable, but this is subject to logistical constraints. If in-person interviews are not available, the interviews will be held over the telephone.

Topics for interviews will vary based on the interviewee and findings from the literature review. Discussions will likely be based on questions like those below.

  • What are the economic and societal benefits from reduced crashes, managed congestion, and opportunities associated with supporting businesses and vehicle-based services?
  • What are the economic impacts and development opportunities for Texas, particularly if Texas moves forward as an early adopter?
  • How will Texas transition to a road environment with automated vehicles? What is the business model? Will deployment be entirely market-led, or will the public sector shape automated mobility? From the state’s perspective, how will varying levels of automation affect the transition?
  • How will Texas’ infrastructure factor into the transition to automated vehicles? What infrastructure elements are most critical? Is there an early deployment opportunity supported by Texas’ managed lane facilities?
  • How should Texas invest its resources to support implementation? Do asset management systems take a more prominent role? How could infrastructure funding be facilitated by automated vehicles?
  • What roles do state and local government agencies play in the transition and implementation process? How will those roles be different from current roles?
  • What areas will require intergovernmental/interagency coordination and collaboration?
  • What is the value added from individual state regulations regarding automated vehicle safety standards in the absence of federal policy direction?
  • What is the relationship between federal agencies that regulate vehicles and Texas state agencies that regulate driver licensing and manage road infrastructure?
  • Who owns the data generated by automated vehicles? Who manages and accesses the data? Who sets data standards?
  • How should data privacy be addressed?
  • How should regional planning agencies (MPOs) account for automation in planning public infrastructure? How might automated vehicles change long-term investment strategies?
  • What are the policy tradeoffs that should be considered, particularly with respect to long-term, large-scale projects (e.g., high-speed rail)?

Task 3: Data Analysis and Interpretation
The third task will review the information developed throughout the first and second tasks, and will assess the likely policy implications. The analysis will seek to identify the most pressing issues Texas will face when automated vehicles are implemented on Texas highways. It will assess a variety of implications, including economic, social, mobility, and other areas.

The exact content of the analysis will depend largely on the content gleaned from the literature review and the SME interviews. It will, however, provide a framework for policy-makers and practitioners to understand possible future impacts with an ability to plan strategic moves the state could take to leverage these emerging technologies to improve Texas’ transportation network.

Task 4: Develop Final Report and Associated Deliverables
The final task will involve the research team drafting a final report and other associated deliverables. The deliverables will include a final report and a PowerPoint presentation. These deliverables will highlight the key findings from the research and will convey them in accessible language and formatting. 

Implementation of Research Outcomes:
Automated vehicles are an emerging technology with the potential to greatly change and disrupt the American transportation system, but may also have significant benefits. This study sought to understand how automated vehicles will change the transportation system, identify implications on state and local transportation providers, determine future research needs, and understand emerging policy issues.

To accomplish these ends, the research team performed an in-depth literature review. Following this review, the research team interviewed expert personnel from automated vehicle manufacturers, suppliers, and developers; and state and local transportation agency representatives. These interviews informed the research process and provided insight into the future needs of transportation providers in the face of automated vehicles.

Products developed by this research:

Poster/Slide Presentation:  Used to present study findings to legislative staff.

Policy Handbook:  Revolutionizing Our Highways:  The Challenges and Benefits of Making Automated Vehicles a Reality, Jason Wagner, Ginger Goodin, Trey Baker, John Maddox, and Chris Pourteau, February, 2014.

Impacts/Benefits of Implementation:
This report developed a better understanding of how automated vehicles could affect state and local transportation agencies; it helped to identify areas for future research; it identified emerging policy issues; it furthered the understanding of the economic implications of automation; and it fostered a greater understanding of the automated vehicle industry perspective with regard to regulating automated vehicles.

Utilizing the knowledge gained from this research, legislative entities could draft and pass public policies related to automated vehicles.  Similarly, it is also possible that governmental entities could make decisions in a non-legislative manner based on the information developed as a result of this research.

Web Links:
Final Technical Report
Policy Handbook