LTRC Explores Autonomous Vehicle Options for State Decision Makers technology today | volume 31, issue 2

In response to a request from the Louisiana State Legislature, researchers at LTRC launched a study of autonomous vehicles to provide recommendations on legislative and regulatory action to best accommodate this emerging technology. This research, entitled “Investigation into Legislative Action Needed to Accommodate the Future Safe Operation of Autonomous Vehicles in the State of Louisiana,” was led by Louisiana State University’s Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Chester Wilmot, Ph.D., P.E., and LTRC Graduate Assistant Marlon Greensword at the Louisiana Transportation Research Center. Researchers reviewed practices in other states, observed prepared legislation, identified the role of different organizations in the development of autonomous vehicles, and observed how each state has handled the issue of preparing for autonomous vehicles on public roads.

“What was found is that there is an exponential growth in interest in the subject, both officially and among the public at large, that some unrealistic expectations concerning what autonomous vehicles will be able to accomplish is beginning to be challenged. We also discovered that two paths in the development of autonomous vehicles are being followed: one involving incremental growth toward full automation and the other an attempt to produce a fully autonomous vehicle directly,” explained Dr. Wilmot.

While existing conditions (i.e., technical components, processing capabilities, public interest, and commitment from both the private and public sector) make autonomous vehicles a reality in the foreseeable future, many obstacles still currently exist.

“There are still factors to consider before they are implemented at a large scale, such as the approximately 250 million vehicles already in the U.S., the enormous cost of autonomous vehicles, the need to maintain the safety and reliability of the vehicle, and the necessity of the public to develop in autonomous vehicles,” said Dr. Wilmot. “To what extent will parents trust their children to drive or ride in an autonomous vehicle? What other potential dangers exist and how long will it take to develop trust?”

The biggest difficulties in moving forward with autonomous vehicles are the need to interpret the data from sensors on the technical side, trust in the new technology on the human side, and the assignment of liability on the legal side. There are also the questions of accessibility and ownership of the data as well as how to maintain cyber security against malicious interlopers. Many potential drawbacks must be considered as this technology moves forward and others will likely continue to manifest afterward.

Based on other agencies and states that utilize autonomous vehicles, researchers found the general consensus is to place as little restriction and regulation on the development of autonomous vehicles as possible at the moment so innovation is not inhibited. At the same time, the potential benefits of uniformity or standardization among states is recognized, but any proposals in this regard are limited to suggestions at the moment.

Nevertheless, researchers remain confident that autonomous vehicles are able to exist in our near future. In fact, DOTD has created an Autonomous Vehicle Technology Team that is going to achieve the following: a working knowledge of advancements in autonomous vehicles; monitor and share industry activity; determine state and local transportation agency roles; formulate DOTD policy; advise local governments of their roles and responsibilities; and identify applications for use within DOTD. The team is divided into four distinct groups: Highway Technology and Infrastructure, Multimodal Transportation Technology and Infrastructure, Agency Role Definition and Policy Formulation, and Departmental Applications. LTRC’s Special Studies group is part of DOTD’s team and will continue to provide technical assistance to this team in the future.

Among other duties, the Agency Role Definition and Policy Formation Working Group will continue to monitor autonomous vehicle legislation in Louisiana and across the country and make policy/legislative recommendations.

For more information about this project or to read the report in its entirety, please visit http://www.ltrc.lsu.edu/pubs_final_reports.html#special and select Final Report and Technical Summary 571.

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