Can Automation Address Today's Public Health Challenges?

Over 36,000 people lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes on U.S. roads in 2018.1 Moreover, a significant number of crashes are due to human error. When you begin to consider this in terms of the number of our family members, friends, neighbors who could’ve been saved, you begin to grasp the urgency of finding a solution. Automation in transportation could be part of that solution. 

Transportation automation is not a new concept. We already have vehicles on the road today that include some level of automation such as cruise control or parking assist. Ultimately, the technology will likely advance to fully automated cars and trucks that drive us instead of us driving them, potentially eliminating crashes caused by human error.

Although this level of automation is farther off in the horizon, we have seen demand for automation to help address some of the impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, demand increased for home delivery of goods. Driverless vehicles may help meet this need. Limited demonstrations of driverless delivery services during the pandemic showed the benefits of the technology. Automated vehicles (AVs) could also help to transport essential supplies and medical equipment and personnel during emergencies.

But, to progress successfully, both the public and private sectors must work together to improve the safety, security, and accessibility of automation technologies. Testing, certifying, and ensuring the safety of AV technology is critical to address the concerns of the general public before it is accepted.

So, what role does the ITS JPO play in all this? We are supporting the U.S. Department of Transportation by funding cross-modal research in vehicle automation safety, infrastructure and interoperability, and policy analysis. Safety activities are necessary to improve our understanding of safe AV operations and produce actionable data for stakeholders. Our infrastructure and interoperability plan includes developing and testing cooperative driving automation to allow machine-to-machine sharing that will enable users to operate more efficiently and safely. Policy analysis will help assess the impacts of AVs on the general public and identify critical issues related to AV adoption. We will also lead research in system dynamics to build a model that can demonstrate unclear dynamic behavior.  

Our collaboration with other modal agencies including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Federal Highway Administration, Maritime Administration, Federal Transit Administration, and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and use of tools that support data access and exchanges, evaluation methods, and decision-making are helping to make this all possible. 

As our country slowly begins to reopen and we start the recovery from the impacts of the pandemic, we must leverage the lessons learned from the crisis and ensure that our nation’s transportation system continues to advance to be ready for what’s next.

Driverless Vehicle Interior


Ken Leonard
ITS JPO Director

Posted 7/8/20