Driverless vehicles. With their alluring promise of leisurely commutes and road trips and the eradication of traffic accidents, it’s not hard to see the appeal. Claims of a world of passengers (not drivers) being whisked about safely and conveniently in just a few years may be overly optimistic, but that doesn’t mean that vehicle manufacturers aren’t working hard on research, testing and even production of these types of vehicles or that states aren't thinking about the challenges and benefits ahead.
The role that states will have in the future of driverless vehicles is not yet clear, however there will be disruptions, new regulations and standards to consider--and benefits too.
The state of Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) has been an early leader in their involvement of autonomous vehicle technology. Iowa is working with a mapping company to develop a 30 mile stretch of Interstate 380 to be a corridor for self-driving vehicles and highly connected vehicles. In November they started testing driverless vehicles on corridor. According to the Iowa DOT, Iowa interstates see significant freight. The promise of an 80% reduction in crashes and the ability of autonomous vehicles to travel closely together means three to four times the capacity of people and goods could travel through Iowa.
Iowa is not waiting for fully driverless vehicles to develop—the intermediate steps of connected vehicles and partially autonomous vehicles will be the only necessary advancements to achieve the goals of this project. But along with this new technology comes significant data needs. The DOT will need to work with the State CIO to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to handle the technology and security needs of highly connected vehicles.
NASCIO is participating in the Uniform Law Commission's Committee on Highly Automated Vehicles as the group works to develop uniform laws that states can adopt. The hope of the group is that states can uniformly adopt sensible laws, carefully drafted with input from multiple stakeholder groups, so there will be less confusion and conflict once highly automated vehicles are on the road.
Though truly autonomous vehicles may be years away, the role of the state CIO may become important sooner, as more highly connected vehicles (not driverless) are on the road. Dealing with data, infrastructure and software compatibility issues may be the first hurdle for state CIOs as this technology develops.
See full NASCIO Connections April edition here.