Automated Vehicles and the Government: Connecting Through DOT

connecting automated vehicles and the American governmentOn September 19, 2016, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) is implementing policies to regulate and support the manufacturing and street readiness of automated vehicles. This giant leap forward comes after several meetings with industry professionals, public input forums and consultations with tech companies. Called the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy, the 116-page plan offers four key points of focus and a 15-point safety assessment that gives guidelines for manufacturers to follow.

Unique preparation for a new world of automated vehicles

This forward movement on automated vehicles is new for government. Traditionally, regulations and auto legislation are put into effect after market penetration of a new technology. It is a reactive, not a proactive, process. The way the current policy is rolling out is very different and something DOT and federal lawmakers are specifically highlighting in their current announcement. The desire is to encourage and manage appropriate innovation in the automotive sector to ensure the technology is safe. And safety is the No. 1 reason for this collaborative effort between lawmakers and the automated vehicle community.

Last year, out of 35,200 car-related deaths, 94 percent were due to human error. As Secretary Foxx shares in his statement, “Automated vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives, driving the single biggest leap in road safety that our country has ever taken.”

Secretary Foxx goes on to add, “This policy is an unprecedented step by the federal government to harness the benefits of transformative technology by providing a framework for how to do it safely.” It is a framework that innovators can follow as they are in process, rather than having to backtrack to play catch-up.

President Obama weighed in on the federal government’s decision with an OpEd piece for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He touches on the issues of safety, but also on providing mobility for those who no longer have it. “And right now, for too many senior citizens and Americans with disabilities, driving isn’t an option. Automated vehicles could change their lives,” the president wrote.

A vision of tomorrow realized today


As President Obama points out, the technology and innovation behind automated vehicles have already gone from sci-fi fantasy to fast-moving reality. The potential benefits are huge, but so are the dangers if government doesn’t help mitigate those risks and support companies as they seek to eliminate them. However, the goal is not to over-regulate, but to work in tandem with these technological achievements. It is the reason why the policy is meant to be flexible and allow for growth as the industry grows and changes.

But as excited as the administration and DOT are about the potential of automated vehicles, the president is adamant about one thing, “And make no mistake: If a self-driving car isn’t safe, we have the authority to pull it off the road. We won’t hesitate to protect the American public’s safety.”

This solution is not set in stone quite yet. The public is encouraged to share whatever questions, concerns, comments, etc. it may have about the policy with the DOT over the next 60 days. In addition, President Obama is hosting the first White House Frontiers Conference on October 13 in Pittsburgh. It focuses on new technologies and how to implement these innovations to best serve the public. It is open to everyone to come and share, learn and discover together. The conference looks at how we, as a nation, can expand our scientific knowledge, what can we learn from the rest of the world and how we can all work together to make people’s lives better. The summit is concentrating on more than the next big thing. It’s also investigating what those inventions can do to make the world a better place.

With every new day, the future is getting closer. And as it does, so too is the realization that government support and involvement during the innovation process is key to true progress.

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The Safety Implications of a Connected Car

In the age of the connected car, it’s hard to believe that just two centuries ago, Francois Isaac de Rivaz invented the first internal combustion engine that would later fit into an automobile.

From Charles Kettering to Ralph Teetor, innovators across the decades have improved upon the original model—adding seat belts, power steering, cruise control, power locks and keyless ignition, for example. And more modern innovations are proving to be especially impactful, offering a host of positive safety implications.

Today’s cars are more powerful, efficient, automated and connected. The contemporary car is enhanced with automated vehicle technology features that have the computing power of 20 PCs, according to McKinsey & Company. And all this power makes modern autos both more appealing and safer for consumers.

Connected car features

With all of the UI and UX advancements to motor vehicles, one might think that what draws most consumers to the connected car is added convenience. In a recent survey conducted by Spireon, however, drivers cited the following among the most desired connected car features:

  • On-board diagnostics
  • Fuel pattern monitoring
  • In-car voice commands
  • In-car internet

Interestingly, it wasn’t convenience that topped the list. The most significant (and desirable) advancements in vehicle connectivity were added safety and security.

Collision risk reduction

Since the advent of automobiles, crashes have remained the primary danger associated with car travel—with the majority due to human error. Thanks to advancements in connectivity, this could all change. The impact of the connected car in reducing collision risks, particularly self-driving and other autonomous vehicles, is substantial. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) projects that around 80 percent of all crash scenarios could be prevented with the use of these technologies.

With approximately 1.25 million auto deaths reported annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this accident-prevention technology could mean literally saving over a million lives.

The most beneficial accident-prevention technologies are crash and collision warning systems. These alert drivers when they are approaching another vehicle or a stationary object too quickly. In many instances, they even apply the brakes for the motorist.

Also advantageous are lane departure warnings. Systems of this type let drivers know if they’re veering off course. This not only redirects a distracted driver, but can also awaken the motorist in case he or she starts to doze off.

It’s not just the people in the car who benefit from these features. Those outside are also safer due to pedestrian avoidance features. In most cars, automated pedestrian avoidance means the vehicle can either apply the brake or redirect itself away from any person in its path.

Safety monitoring

Honest drivers would probably acknowledge that they drive safer when they know they’re being watched. Just like a 16-year-old who triple checks his blind spot and uses his blinker when changing lanes because mom is in the car, a motorist’s degree of focus, speed and safety compliance are influenced by the presence of an audience.

With contemporary vehicle advancements, drivers can have this “audience” even when driving solo. This is thanks to vehicle telematics, which has as many potential applications as it does benefits. Telematic devices are able to track many facets of driving behavior, including speed, travel patterns and hard-braking frequency. Growing in popularity with insurance companies, telematic devices allow carriers, for example, to monitor and reward safe-driving habits and better detect accident fraud amongst their insured drivers.

Security needs

With these innovations comes the need for added protection. Because connected cars use the internet, they are also vulnerable to the same cybersecurity issues as a home computer or smartphone. Hackers could potentially control everything from the direction of travel to speed, so the dangers associated with being infiltrated are great. Consumer Reports noted this growing concern, warning buyers that dedicated hackers can—and perhaps even will—hack into connected vehicles.

Fortunately, NHTSA is actively working to make cars harder to hack. So far, their efforts are focused on building up firewalls and decreasing the degree to which automakers use standardized software.

Experts anticipate this will certainly decrease the ease with which would-be cyber-intruders can access a vehicle. But it’s important to remember that hacking will likely continue to be a concern.

With plentiful features and enticing bells and whistles, connected cars are certain to grow in popularity. Thanks to the security features that are built into these smart vehicles, safer times on the road are ahead.

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