According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 94% of severe automobile crashes are the result of human error. Vehicles which are fully automated are touted as being capable of performing much better than humans at operating a vehicle and having the ability to almost eliminate collisions and the injuries, fatalities and property damage they produce. As we progress toward “self-driving” vehicles there are a host of technological and legal concerns that still need to be dealt with.
Understanding the Technology
Research and testing is well underway in the realm of connected and automated vehicle (CAV) development. Many of today's vehicles do have some capabilities of automated operation. The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) has begun coordinated efforts with organizations in the private sector as well as governmental entities at the national, state, and local level to provide an environment that supports these transportation efforts. Some of the key terminology involved is defined as follows:
- Connected vehicles: The ability for vehicles to electronically communicate with other vehicles, pedestrians, and infrastructure
- Automated vehicles: Those which employ advanced technology capable of functioning as a driver otherwise would
- Driver assistance technologies: Automated assistance features capable of alerting and helping drivers operate safely. Examples include “lane-keeping assist” which uses sensors to warn drivers if they have veered outside the boundaries of their lane.
- Blind spot detection: Sensors are employed to detect the presence of another vehicle in the “blind spot” that drivers are often unable to clearly see located at the vehicle's rear sides. In addition, this technology is developing to alert a driver when they are traveling in another driver's blind spot.
Secretary of Transportation Pete K. Rahn announced the formation of the Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAV) Working Group, which is composed of an incredibly diverse list of organizations and stakeholders. Some of those included are law enforcement, traffic and safety analysts, economic developers, leading educational institutions, as well as representation from the commercial trucking industry. The state is proud of their implementation of a permit process for automated vehicle projects.
Effect on Maryland Roads
Thus far, Maryland has hosted testing related to some of these exciting possibilities:
- The formation of groups of vehicles that can safely travel at a constant speed to expedite traffic flow
- Automating the ride-share industry
- Parking valet systems that are automated
- Automated operation of vehicles used at airports, campuses, shopping centers, and more
Why Maryland is a Great Environment for Development
Maryland leaders believe that the state's environment is ideal for CAV research, testing, and development. Currently, CAV-related activity is being conducted in laboratories, closed roadway sites, and “real world” locations across the state. MDOT is furthering their relationships with private, public and academic entities and allocating resources to implement necessary physical environments and infrastructure to foster development. The state's landscape reflects the majority of settings that exist in the U.S. today, such as urban, suburban and rural environments, and an excellent system of highways and other transportation options.