autonomous vehicles

A man “drives” in a test of an autonomous vehicle. NACTO recommends fully automated cars, because drivers of partially autonomous vehicles spend more time texting, reading, and engaging in other activities that prevent them from focusing fully on the road.

The National Association of City Transportation Officials has come out with policy recommendations for how cities can be designed to be safer and to better accommodate autonomous vehicle technology. He said NACTO looks to the future of transportation as a system that will be sustainable, accessible, and affordable.

In an article for Treehugger, Lloyd Alter applauds NACTO for providing a counterbalance to the auto and technology industries, which he thinks would design the system for the benefit of the car and its driver, and to clear the way for AVs would probably push the pedestrian off the road in ways that made jaywalking laws look benign.” 

Recommendations for Stakeholders

The association, which represents 46 major U.S. cities — including Denver and Boulder in Colorado — is urging all levels of stakeholders, including federal regulators, state transportation departments, and manufacturers of automated vehicles, to follow a set of recommendations. They include:

  • Planning for fully automated vehicles. NACTO believes that accommodating partially automated vehicles would be a mistake. That is because testing has shown they encourage unsafe driving behaviors. Drivers of partially autonomous vehicles spend more time texting, reading, and engaging in other activities that prevent them from focusing fully on the road, so they’re not ready to take over in case of a situation that the vehicle can’t handle.
  • Taking a closer look at plans for streets and highways. Once autonomous vehicles dominate the roads, the planned expansion of some highways could be unnecessary, making those expressways “white elephants.”
  • Rethinking planning in cities, and limiting self-driving vehicles in urban areas to a maximum speed of 25 mph. It is important for cities, regulators and automakers to team up to make sure autonomous vehicles operate safely in dense, urban environments.
  • Mandating data-sharing from automated vehicles. A data-driven approach will help cities.
  • Changing planning models to anticipate a disruptive impact of this technology.

City Traffic Goals

NACTO’s goals include:

  • Promoting safety for everyone using urban streets: pedestrians, bicyclists, mass transportation riders, and passengers in  self-driving vehicles. Protecting all people “should be the primary goal of modeling and software development for vehicular movement on city streets.”
  • Recommending that incentives be created to encourage shared, autonomous electric vehicles, to reduce environmental impacts, and emphasize mobility as a service
  • Encouraging cities to provide more space for pedestrians, bicyclists, mass transit, and recreation as less space is needed for cars
  • Supporting public transportation by providing shared autonomous vehicles as transportation to get people to major transit lines, and providing cost-effective on-demand transit instead of fixed routes
  • Improving mobility for all segments of the population
  • Promoting communities as great places to live, work, and play, thanks to the use of technology as a planning tool

Alter says that the most extreme part of what NACTO writes is:

To achieve these goals, NACTO makes some solid recommendations, the most radical being that in cities the AVs should be fully automated. They simply don’t trust drivers.

Image by rioblanco/123RF.