How quickly will the U.S. fully adopt self-driving, web-connected vehicles?

a toy car with a robot at the wheel

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The future of transportation in the United States appears to belong to vehicles that connect to the Internet and drive themselves. But how will the nation deploy these vehicles?

Researchers at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute attempted to answer this question with a study that presented two scenarios to personnel in state and local transportation agencies.

Senior Research Scientist Johanna Zmud said, “The goal was to identify strategies that state and local agencies can adopt now to prepare for the future, regardless of which scenario, or mixture of scenarios, comes to pass.”

The study looked at two scenarios — the Revolutionary Path and the Evolutionary Path.

In the Revolutionary Path, the private sector pushes technologies to market through aggressive research-and-development investments. Progress is not halted by regulatory or policy issues, and self-driving vehicles are on the road in significant numbers by 2025.

In the Evolutionary Path, the private sector makes gradual improvements in advanced driver-assistance systems. Policy, regulatory and technical issues delay testing and deployment. Significant numbers of self-driving vehicles don’t appear on roadways until 2050.

Zmud and her team found out the following from talking with stakeholders in the public sector:

* By small margins, interviewees from state departments of transportation thought that the Evolutionary Path scenario would be most likely, and it was also the most preferred path because it’s assumed to be less disruptive for agencies.

* Most local and regional transportation agencies interviewed considered the Revolutionary Path scenario most likely and most preferred. The rationale was that if the private sector pushes this quickly, it would bring financial resources with it to support deployment at the local level.

The study suggests these strategies to prepare the nation for self-driving vehicles:

* Reviewing current legislation and policies that could affect implementation.

* Designating a specific individual within an organization to be responsible for connected or self-driving vehicles.

* Reaching out to state and local policy makers to familiarize and educate them.

* Participating in the national discussion.

* Establishing a working relationship with resources in the state or region with useful expertise, such as universities, university transportation centers and national laboratories.

More at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute