Transportation – The New Villain in America’s Fight Against Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Transportation and clean air – if you don’t already know – are at odds with one another.

For two years running, transportation has surpassed all other sectors as the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to data released by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) in March.

But there is good news.  The transportation industry is on the brink of a revolution that could dramatically lower the sector’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, and the connected and automated vehicle (CAV) could well be the hero.

To appreciate how serious the problem is, it would help to start with these facts: for decades the top carbon emitter in the U.S. was the power sector, in large part because of coal.  But that all changed in 2016 when, for the first time, transportation outpaced all other sectors – more than agriculture, industry, and yes, even electricity generation – accounting for 28 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

And while cars, trucks, commercial aircraft, and railroads all contribute to transportation sector emissions, light-duty passenger cars and trucks – basically your typical commuter car and pick-up truck –  account for 60 percent of all transportation greenhouse gas emissions.

Needless to say, if you care about the environment, you better start caring about transportation – and I’m not just talking about Toyota Prius owners.

Just as renewables like wind and solar have been steadily decarbonizing the power sector, connected and automated vehicles show tremendous promise when it comes to mitigating transportation sourced greenhouse gas emissions.

For instance, in another EIA report, by 2050 connected and autonomous vehicles could lead to a 44 percent reduction in fuel consumption.  And last year, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy released a report, along with a plan of action for vehicle electrification, automation, and ride-sharing in urban areas, where they estimate the potential ceiling for reducing carbon emissions from automobiles at an astonishing 80 percent.

Electrification, automation, and ride-sharing – which are all part of the CAV promise – couldn’t come at a better time, especially since they show so much potential in the context of urban congestion.

Studies have found that 30 percent of downtown traffic is caused by people circling around in search of curb parking.  One study even found that 45 percent of drivers interviewed while stopped at traffic lights in Brooklyn said they were searching for parking.

But no study captures the absurdity of downtown traffic more than Donald Shoup’s work in The High Cost of Parking.  In one 15-block business district, Shoup concluded curb parking created 950,000 excess vehicle miles of travel, equivalent to four trips to the moon, wasting 47,000 gallons of gas, and producing 730 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Just chew on that for a second; and once the taste of carbon dioxide subsides, remember that’s all happening in one small business district.  Imagine the cumulative effect of cruising in the U.S.  Shoup, it should be noted, went on to win a National Excellence Award for this body of work, one of the highest decorations awarded by the American Planning Association.

I don’t know about you, but regardless of whether you care about the environment, why spend all that time circling around when you could potentially hop into a connected, automated, and even electric Uber, or Lyft, or Sidecar, or Taxify, or public bus for that matter, and get dropped off at the door?

Sounds pretty good to me.

But like all revolutions, there are no guarantees.  On the heels of the EIA study, the Center for American Progress – which the EIA references – painted a bleaker picture.  The summary of their concerns: “All this potential to reduce emissions could be wasted, and could be made worse than it is even today.”  After all, they argue, what if people love automated vehicles so much that they zip around in them all day, from one place to the next, thus exceeding our current average miles traveled per vehicle?

Indeed, in this scenario, without a significant rise in the electrification of vehicles to offset the risk of increased vehicle miles traveled, such a concern could prove disastrous.

Which is why we must remember that there are no guarantees in this revolution – or any revolution for that matter.  But one thing is for sure: our ability to reduce transportation greenhouse gases depends on strong, well-funded public-private partnerships like the ones found at the Wisconsin AV Proving Ground, where scientist and engineers are working tirelessly to develop the requisite technologies, and business leaders, civil servants, and legislators can congregate to develop policies, best practices, and industry standards that will maximize the potential of this technology.

Just as the future of the U.S. power sector MUST be green, sustainable, and renewable, the future of U.S. transportation MUST be electric, connected, and automated – at least until we discover better solutions.

Rob Fischer is President of GTiMA and a senior tech and policy advisor to Mandli Communications’ strategy team. GTiMA and Mandli Communications are both proud partners of the Wisconsin Autonomous Vehicle Proving Ground.

Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

Bracing for Impact: Trade Chicken and the Auto Industry

There’s a high stakes game of chicken being played between DC and Beijing right now. The Trump administration and the Chinese government — the drivers — are on a collision course. One must swerve, or both risk severe injury in the crash.

I’m using the car analogy with good reason. A trade war between the US and China — which goes back decades, but just got a nitro boost –- could hold major pitfalls for the automotive industry.

The Trump administration said Tuesday that it will place tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese products, outlining more than 1,300 imported goods. China, in turn, hit back Wednesday with their own $50 billion tariff plan, which would make it costlier to import 106 types of American goods.

While an all-out trade war would bruise both economies, the tit-for-tat announcements are not indicative of similar strategies, writes Christopher Balding for Bloomberg View. “Trump’s [tariffs] list was notable for how hard it worked to minimize the pain felt by American consumers and Chinese businesses. It avoided disrupting major sectors, and seemed to focus on products that could easily be substituted.”

Conversely, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration “produced a heavily concentrated list that targeted politically sensitive industries such as planes, beef, and soybeans. Covering only a little more than 100 products, but worth about the same as the US list, these tariffs seemed designed to place severe pressure on key companies and constituencies,” Balding writes.

No matter what the strategy may be for each side, a trade war is always risky business. While tariffs are often imposed to protect domestic industry, the consequences are hard to predict: there’s no telling how the other side will retaliate, and the impact on your own economy can be equally uncertain.

The Trump administration’s list of goods — which excludes many Chinese- made consumer products, like those available for sale at Target or Walmart — is likely to increase costs for American manufacturers that depend on imported parts. The tariffs focus heavily on machinery and high-tech components.

Combine that with China’s retaliation, and the downside on both supply and demand for the US automotive industry starts adding up.

For instance, a trade war could upend suppliers like Lear and Delphi Automotive, which rely heavily on the Chinese market. China accounted for about 25 percent, or $4.3 billion, of Delphi’s $16.7 billion in revenue in 2016, and nearly 12 percent of Lear’s $18.6 billion in revenue last year, according to Automotive News.

Demand for US cars in China would also suffer, according to the New York Times, as China’s tariffs would double the current levy on US-made cars to 50 percent. Under current levies, a Jeep Wrangler costs $30,000 above its US sticker price in China, where it sells for a hefty total of $71,000. Under the proposed regime, the total cost of a Wrangler would rise to over $100,000.

Also at risk are foreign firms that produce in the US, like German-based BMW, which sends 89,000 vehicles annually from the US to China, or Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz, which ships 65,000 a year.

The bottom line is that prices will go up for everyone. Jack Hollis, Toyota Motor Corp’s North American head of sales and marketing, said tariffs would mean “we’ll all just have to raise prices … because there’s no way you can absorb” all that extra cost.

And it looks like things could get even worse before they have a chance of getting better.

According to Rick Noack’s reporting in the Washington Post, Trump’s team has been attacking the WTO – the very organization that would usually be expected to calm things down. “In the past, most ordinary trade disputes have been solved through the WTO’s dispute settlement process, which relies on member states to refer their cases to the organization to work out a solution.”

And even though China has used the WTO to accuse the United States of unfairly imposing trade restrictions over the last months, Trump does not appear interested in being dragged into the dispute settlement process. In fact, Noak writes, “Trump appears to be deliberately undermining the legitimacy of that process by saying that his tariffs plan was based on ‘national security’ concerns.”

The Chinese, at this point, don’t seem to be backing down. Their state-backed Global Times struck a hawkish note in an editorial following the US tariffs announcement. “Some US elites stubbornly believe that the Chinese economy’s dependence on the US market is much higher than the US economy’s dependence on the Chinese market. They are pushing Washington to change its trade policy with China based on their vague understanding. But the truth is that the total size of China’s consumer market has already surpassed the US. The logic that China is more dependent on the US is untenable.”

So it looks like if there is to be a détente – and a détente is what we hope for – it’s not going to come from the WTO or China, it’s going to have to come from Congress.

To implement the tariffs on Chinese imports, President Donald Trump is relying on Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which allows the president to bypass Congress and impose tariffs by executive order.

If Congress wants to stop the tariffs, Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank, says it has essentially one option: pass a measure with a veto-proof majority that either overturns the action or strips Trump of his authority to impose it.

Unfortunately, Alden “would be astonished” if Republicans in Congress banded together with Democrats “to rescind a core policy of the president.”

So it looks like in the meantime – ladies and gentlemen, spectators and drivers – we’d better brace for impact.

Rob Fischer is President of GTiMA and a senior advisor to Mandli Communications’ strategy team. GTiMA and Mandli Communications are both proud partners of the Wisconsin Autonomous Vehicle Proving Ground.

Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

The Gas Tax Folly and the Future of Infrastructure Funding

There’s a debate raging in statehouses across the United States, and in the US Congress itself: to raise the gas tax, or to not raise the gas tax?

But many elected officials don’t realize the gas tax is a short-term solution with diminishing returns, and that there’s a new approach to funding roads — road pricing, or congestion pricing — that is already showing so much promise that experts believe it will be the sole revenue stream for transportation dollars once it’s widely adopted.

At the heart of the current gas tax debate is this quandary: the Federal Highway Trust Fund – which is primarily paid into by the federal gas tax and serves as the nation’s pool for infrastructure and road repair – is due to run out of money at the end of 2020.

In many states, lawmakers are borrowing money to make basic road repairs after deciding not to raise the gas tax.

The gas tax has certainly fallen behind in terms of inflation. The last time the federal government raised the gas tax, Bill Clinton had just been sworn in as President, the season finale of Cheers was the talk of the nation, and the World Wide Web was born at CERN.

How far we’ve come since 1993, and how far our infrastructure has not. On the last two report cards from the American Society of Civil Engineers, US infrastructure scored a D+ and we don’t seem to have a dime to spend on new, transformative projects.

But here’s the rub. While we need additional revenue for infrastructure, the days of the gas tax being sufficient are numbered. Emerging technologies like autonomous vehicles and electric cars will eventually make the gas tax obsolete, according to many experts.

The reason for the fund’s insolvency is simple: when you don’t raise the gas tax for 24 years, inflation gets way ahead of you. And it’s not just a little chunk: accounting for inflation, $100 worth of buying power in today’s economy was $57.62 in 1993.

Further exacerbating the problem, cars are more efficient and don’t use as much gas as they used to.  Car fuel efficiency has roughly doubled in the past 25 years.  Meanwhile, we are driving more than ever.

And, of course, there are two major technological revolutions on the horizon – the automated vehicle revolution and the electric vehicle revolution. Both of these are seen as likely eventualities, but only one of them would need to happen to render the gas tax more or less obsolete.

But Trump, the US Congress, and statehouses around the country are limiting the scope of their vision for funding infrastructure to the gas tax alone.

As recently reported by the Hill, Trump made several off-the-cuff remarks at a meeting with Senators over how to fund infrastructure, suggesting he’d be receptive to a 25-cent increase in the federal gas tax. This apparently confounded everyone in the meeting, because he was expressing what has traditionally been the Democratic argument over the issue.

But his instincts may not have been all that bad in this case. First, Trump will eventually have to address the funds insolvency during his presidency – whether he wants to or not.  Second, proposals to raise the federal fuel taxes have long been championed by certain sectors of the business community, truckers and other groups that have backed Trump strongly. Basically, it’s probably not a coincidence that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which, despite its official-sounding title, is a right-leaning business-oriented lobbying group with a whole lot of clout) recently endorsed a 25-cent boost in the federal gasoline tax — the same figure cited by Trump this week.

While it’s true that we badly need funds right away, we would be foolish to simply raise the gas tax and spend it on short-term repairs. What we really need is an investment in building the infrastructure that will allow for what many analysts see as the most realistic source of income for highways in the future: road pricing.

Road pricing charges motorists for the use of busy roads at certain times, especially to relieve congestion in urban areas. This is basically what we might call “smart tolling”, or, perhaps even better, “fair tolling”. The key is charging based on when, how much and where drivers use the roads.

With the worlds most comprehensive road-pricing system, Singapore could be the model others will try to follow. When they introduced the world’s first congestion charge zone (CCZ) in 1975, it used paper permits to control access to a charge zone. They switched to electronic sensors in 2008.

The logic behind the system is remarkably simple: If average speeds are deemed too slow over a three-month period, then the city raises the cost of entrance.

So far, their approach has been working. According to Woo Sian Boon of Singapore’s Land Transport Authority, congestion has fallen as motorists have switched to less busy routes or to the city-state’s public transport, or traveled at off-peak times when charges are low.

And things could get even better. Singapore will introduce a new system in 2020 that uses cars’ global positioning systems (GPS) to charge motorists more precisely. By using GPS data in algorithms to calculate the amount drivers pay based on distance, time, location and vehicle, drivers will receive real-time information about the cost and congestion of roads, encouraging them to consider other routes.

Other schemes are being tried out in US states such as California, Colorado, and Oregon.

The biggest, OReGO (a pilot program in Oregon), aims to find an alternative to the state fuel tax. Drivers fit devices in their cars that draw data from the engine’s computers. The gadgets record the amount of fuel used and distance driven, and transmit the data to a state server via mobile networks.

The technology enables motorists to be charged based on how far they drive, with each mile costing 1.5 cents, whatever the location or time. Then, the state fuel tax they have paid (30 cents a gallon) is refunded.

Whether or when OReGO will replace the state fuel tax is unclear, but early results have been promising.

Nevertheless, innovative schemes like those we see in OReGO and Singapore, among others, deserve the attention of elected officials all across America. They can provide a revenue stream that will rival the gas tax at its peak efficacy, and that will set us up for the future.

Let’s just hope that Oregonians are right when they say: “As OReGO goes, so goes the nation.” We think they are.

Some facts in this piece, along with a quote from Woo Sian Boon, were sourced from The Economist.

Rob Fischer is President of GTiMA and a senior advisor to Mandli Communications’ strategy team. GTiMA and Mandli Communications are both proud partners of the Wisconsin Autonomous Vehicle Proving Ground.

Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

AV Benefits to Cities: More Than Just Safety

Let’s not devalue the potential benefits to safety offered by autonomous vehicles. In an era where distracted driving is on the rise, so too are crash fatalities, which have spiked over the past two years after a decade or more of steadily declining. AVs have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives per year. That’s extremely important, but it also tends to be the main positive thing we hear about AVs.

We know that urban centers will be the first hosts to autonomous vehicles, and we’ve written a bit about the hurdles planners face in preparing their cities for the technology — and a bit about the improved land use that could result from careful preparation.

But what are some of the other benefits to cities that are less-reported? For answers to that, we turn to a recent Bloomberg Insights report, “Taming The Autonomous Vehicle: A Primer for Cities”, which tells us “the low-cost mobility of AVs could be an important tool for reorganizing and reinventing human services in the future.”

And when we look closely at the data, we can see that this is true across a variety of human services that we wouldn’t typically associate with autonomous vehicles.

Take children and schools, for example. There is a recurring theme in cities around budget shortfalls for educational programs, which, it could be argued, are essential for the nation to grow and stay competitive. According to Bloomberg, 25 million students are transported by a school bus twice a day. It seems like a lot, and it is — and it comes at a cost. In fact, the annual cost for bus transportation per student is close to $1,000 a year! While Bloomberg acknowledges that parental acceptance of automated buses taking their kids to school is an open question, it does underscore the fact that education dollars would be freed up in large numbers by such a transition. In most cities, bus service to and from school is provided free of charge. Imagine what an extra $1,000 per student could do to offer competitive teacher salaries and host innovative educational programs.

There’s more than just the cost-saving element here. As Bloomberg puts it, “AVs could support the restructuring of how education is delivered. Policy reforms that seek to increase choice and specialization in local school systems will increase school-related travel,” which obviously will be a much easier job to handle with an automated bus system. The study also notes that magnet schools, which draw from a much larger area than neighborhood schools, face issues getting their students to school efficiently, especially since they have “lower rates of walking, bicycling, and commuting by car and higher ra s of busing.” Many students attend magnet schools that would amount to a 30-minute commute by car, or more. Rather than being tethered to the end of a bus line that begins dropping off students near the school and ends up in the suburbs where the last students are dropped off hours later, it would be reasonable to have smaller buses or vans for those students, thus allowing more family and homework time for them.

Then there’s health care. Bloomberg cites a recent report by the Ruderman Family Foundation and Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), which says “an estimated 11 million medical appointments are missed annually in the United States due to insufficient transportation. If AVs could fill this gap, an estimated $19 billion could be saved annually, mostly from entitlement programs.”

It’s obviously about more than just the money here, too – though saving entitlement dollars from going to waste would be a great thing for any city. Bloomberg lays out a chart of the type of appointments that are missed, and here we see the human element: half a million diabetes-related doctor’s appointments per year. Close to two million end-stage renal cancer appointments per year. One and a half million missed congestive heart failure-related appointments per year. And, stunningly, two and a half million missed mental health-related appointments per year. So the money wasted is really nothing compared to the degree of suffering that is caused to millions of people who lack the ability to secure transportation to these appointments.

Bloomberg suggests some ways that medical services could be restructured in the AV era: “unattended medical shuttles are unlikely, as many passengers will still require assistance boarding and de-boarding the vehicle, but the driver might be replaced by a more skilled medical technician who could perform triage and preventative care. As AI-enabled diagnostics, telemedicine, and other innovations improve, many patients could be treated on-board and discharged back at their home. If significant amounts of care could be decentralized in this way, hospitals could be smaller and/or more specialized.”

Hospitals are clogged in many urban centers, so the possibility that mobile, autonomous medical vehicles could actually be the point of care for non-emergency medical issues would be a total game-changer for public health in cities.

Finally, there’s the part of the day that everyone loves to hate: the commute. People are commuting longer distances than ever to work as urban sprawl increases. But with autonomous vehicles, where a person would be able to do some of their work in their car while getting to work much more quickly than they do today, the commute could actually become part of the workday.

And the radius of what could be considered a reasonable commute would improve, too. It’s estimated that the amount of time someone spends on a 30-mile commute to Chicago today would be equivalent to an 84-mile commute from the state of Wisconsin in an autonomous vehicle. Not only will that make workers more efficient, it will expand the job market for everyone.

These are just a few of the benefits that AVs promise to cities and their residents. For more, we recommend you check out the Bloomberg Insight report. And we hope planners are listening: while, as we’ve reported, the amount of work on the horizon for them is significant, the benefits could be truly transformative for the citizens they serve. And that’s what all the talk about AV benefits should focus on. Not only are they expected to be exponentially safer, they also will touch every aspect of city services, freeing up money in budgets and improving the quality of a city top to bottom.

Rob Fischer is President of GTiMA and a senior advisor to Mandli Communications’ strategy team. GTiMA and Mandli Communications are both proud partners of the Wisconsin Autonomous Vehicle Proving Ground.

Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

Heath Davis-Gardner is a professional writer and editor who currently serves as Strategic Communications Specialist at Mandli Communications.

Now More Than Ever, Auto Safety Must Be Addressed

Two years ago, for the first time in a decade, there were more traffic fatalities than there had been the previous year. Automobile-related deaths had been on a steady decline for a decade prior to that spike.

Now we know that wasn’t just a blip on the radar — it was the beginning of a new trend.

This month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its tally of deadly vehicle crashes in the USA in 2016. The total was 37,461 lives lost — a 5.6% increase from 2015. In total, the spike that started in 2015 represents a 14.4% surge in traffic deaths. In that same time period, pedestrian deaths have shot up an astonishing 21.9%. This all on the heels of two full decades of declining highway fatality statistics.

All this despite what NHTSA acknowledges as an era where “vehicle safety technology is better than ever,” given the adoption of new safety features and safety-related ADAS systems like automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping warnings.

It’s not the technology’s fault, however. As always, the fatalities can be chalked up to some form of human error. Speeding, failure to wear seat belts, drunk driving, and distraction — in the form of cell phones, as well as other factors — were all among the forms of human error that ended up costing lives. What’s the worst culprit? Regulators say they don’t really know, that there’s no real explanation for why the death toll is increasing.

Bloomberg has just printed an excellent piece positing one possible answer. The article, “Smartphones are Killing Americans, but Nobody’s Counting”, presents an array of data that suggest NHTSA has missed some key trends about smartphones that correlate very closely with the rising fatality numbers — from 2014 to 2016, the share of Americans who owned a smartphone went from 75% to 81%, all while the way Americans were using their phones was changing. We’ve gone from using our phones to talk, which at least allows us to keep our eyes on the road, to texting, checking and updating social media, and other activities that rely on a user actually looking at their phone.

The data presented by Bloomberg is pretty compelling, and they take NHTSA to task for not linking the possibility of mobile phone use to fatalities, only including the fewer than 500 crashes where the phone use was documented. The argument is hard to deny: by NHTSA’s own reporting, drunk driving hasn’t increased nearly enough to explain the spike in fatalities, nor has speeding. The article also includes the findings of a startup called Zendrive Inc., which analyzes smartphone data for the purpose of assessing safety risks for insurance companies. According to Bloomberg, “in a study of 3 million people, it found drivers using their mobile phone during 88 percent of trips. The true number is probably even higher because Zendrive didn’t capture instances were mounted in a fixed position.”

Zendrive’s CEO said to Bloomberg: “It’s definitely frightening. Pretty much everybody is using their phone while driving.”

Frightening indeed.

There is something to be said, of course, for trying to educate drivers via public service announcements and other related forms of outreach to try to curb this rise in distracted driving. But it’s hard to imagine how regulators would be able to keep pace. Phones are becoming more and more powerful, more addictive, more — well, distracting. And especially since a driver who caused an accident while on their phone would have to openly admit to using it to an officer, it seems like a tricky thing to police — and as NHTSA’s statistics seem to suggest, tricky to document as well.

There’s only one real answer to this problem. This trend of increased traffic fatalities is precisely why we need to continue the movement toward autonomous vehicles. We are only on the cusp of what these systems will be able to do. Right now, all safety ADAS features still rely on the driver being fully alert and paying attention. In other words, these systems can help, but they aren’t going to save someone who can’t or won’t focus on the road while they’re driving.

We have heard the numbers plenty of times now, estimates that autonomous vehicles could cut traffic fatalities by 90% or more. But, for many of us, this potential benefit outweighs many of the hypothetical scenarios and predictions that some groups are making: that AVs will increase urban sprawl as more people become comfortable living in suburbs, or that there will be a rough patch where emissions rise a bit because of additional cars on the road (as self-driving taxis come into the economy before the traditional automobile has been phased out). There are arguments against these positions (and as we’ll report soon, much of these externalities can be avoided by a smart approach to urban planning), but even assuming all of those things occur: it’s still worth it if we can save tens of thousands of lives per year.

The Bloomberg piece features the story of Jennifer Smith, whose mother was killed on her way to pick up cat food when a 20-year-old college student, distracted by his mobile phone, ran a red light and broadsided her vehicle. These fatalities aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet. Not only was Smith’s mother killed for senseless and even trivial reasons, other lives were changed forever. Smith’s career was disrupted by the grief of the incident, and the 20-year-old college student will have a massive weight on his conscience for the rest of his life. And that’s just a few of many reverberations from one fatality out of tens of thousands.

The US Congress has made good steps forward lately — which we’ve reported — toward making autonomous vehicle testing easy to do while ensuring safety. But it will take more than just good intentions. We need to use all the resources available, including our USDOT-designated proving grounds, to do everything we can to speed the development of this life-saving technology.

Now more than ever, we need to take action to make mass traffic fatalities a thing of the past. And we can do it by working together, sharing information, learning, and paying attention. We’re ready to do our part — are you?

Heath Davis-Gardner is a professional writer and editor who currently serves as Strategic Communications Specialist at Mandli Communications.

AV Safety Evaluation Report Requirements in AV START Act

The AV START Act, which unanimously moved out of committee and is now headed for a vote in the Senate (a companion version has already passed the US House), has laid out in detail what OEMs must certify in terms of safety for vehicles before introducing them into interstate commerce for testing purposes).

This update is intended to summarize exactly what aspects of vehicles OEMs must certify for safety if and when the act passes (as all indications say it will).

Each report will have to describe in detail how the manufacturer is “addressing, through a documented assessment, testing and validation for each of the subject areas” listed below.

System Safety
*Assurance that hardware and software function as intended
*Means by which “unreasonable risks to safety” would be mitigated in the event of a malfunction
*The vehicle’s sense of “objects, motorcyclists, bicyclists, pedestrians and animals in or crossing the path of travel” via the AV system.

Data Recording – the collection by the AV of information and incident and crash data must:
*Record the occurrence of malfunctions, disengagements, degradations, or failures
*Aid in the analysis of the cause of any of the above issues
*Enable efforts to “work with other entities to address data recording and sharing”
*Comply with collection and sharing requirements laid out in the FAST Act (Public Law 114-94).

Cybersecurity
*“The minimization of cybersecurity risks” must be outlined in the report, as must include, to the DOT, “exchange of information about any vulnerabilities discovered from field incidents, internal testing, or external security research.”

Human-machine Interface – report must describe:
*The methods of informing human driver/operator regarding the AV system’s functioning, and warning when AV systems are suboptimal
*For Level 3 vehicles, methods to address driver reengagement when AV systems fail
*The use of human-machine interface by people with disabilities – law suggests visual, auditory, or haptic displays, “or other methods.”

Crashworthiness
*Report must outline “practicable protection for all occupants” given any seating configuration possible in the vehicle.

Capabilities
*Report must detail the capabilities and limitations of the AV system.

Post-Crash Behavior
*Report must describe how the vehicle will behave if sensors or critical systems are damaged in a crash.

Accounting for Applicable Laws
*Report must describe how the AVs will account for all applicable traffic laws and rules of the road, “based on operational design domain”

Automation Detection – report must describe:

*The expected operational design domain in which the AV is designed to operate, including any roadway and infrastructure assets required for its operation, “such as roadside equipment, pavement markings, signage, and traffic signals,” and how the vehicle will respond “if that operational design domain unexpectedly changes.”
*The AV’s expected object and event detection and response capabilities, including behavioral competencies and crash avoidance capability.
*The ability of the AV system to “transition to a minimal risk condition” when malfunctions happen.
*The performance of the vehicle through all testing developed and/or implemented by the manufacturer, including simulation, test-track and on-road testing.

NOTE: This is still not yet law, but indications are that the divisive amendments that were removed from the bill will be taken up separately and that the US House will accept the Senate bill in committee. However, any updates and revisions will be reported, if necessary.

Rob Fischer is President of GTiMA and a senior advisor to Mandli Communications’ strategy team. GTiMA and Mandli Communications are both proud partners of the Wisconsin Autonomous Vehicle Proving Ground.

Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

Heath Davis-Gardner is a professional writer and editor who currently serves as Strategic Communications Specialist at Mandli Communications.

AV START Act Unanimously Clears US Senate Commerce Committee

After an early dispute over trucking, the counterpart to the bill that passed in the US House last month —- the AV START Act — has moved out of committee and onto the Senate floor.

The bill, which will broadly expand testing of AVs by permitting the federal government to allow federal safety standards exemptions to manufacturers based on production volume, has earned headlines based on that fact alone. But the bill was heavily amended during its time before the Commerce Committee, and we thought it would be useful to take a look at some of the amendments that were up for debate, as well as less-reported elements of the act.

Teamsters Win This Round, But Battle Isn’t Over

The Teamsters have been vocal about their opposition to this legislation having any application to trucking, and the ensuing debate was the biggest point of disagreement that this bill faced. Following a protracted battle between committee chairman Sen. Thune and an author of the bill, Sen. Peters, the legislation being passed now does not apply at all to trucks. There was an attempt by Sen. Inhofe to tack on an amendment during the committee vote to have it apply to trucking, which he withdrew due to a lack of majority support. However, Sen. Inhofe has declared that he will introduce a standalone bill to apply the new pro-testing rules to trucking. Lobbyists that have been in favor of including trucks in the AV Start Act have expressed concern that a standalone bill would cause a problem by putting the concern over employment and automation that ultimately resulted in striking trucks from this bill in an even brighter spotlight.

During the executive session, Sen. Inhofe strongly stressed that 87% of truck crashes are a result of human error, and that a majority of deadly highway crashes involve large trucks. “Testing trucks differently, when it comes to innovation, would be a major impediment,” he said. He noted that the American Trucking Association, along with most major players in the AV world (specifically mentioning Tesla, Uber, and Google) were all in favor of having the act apply to trucks.

Sen. Young spoke up and addressed the elephant in the room: that “this is about perceived job losses on account of automation. We’ve heard from experts that this can elevate the status of transportation jobs, we should own it and lean into that.”

There was agreement between Sens. Inhofe, Young and Thune that they would continue to press the issue moving forward. However, it’s impossible to say at his point whether or not such a push would be successful. Still, the issue isn’t settled and there is sure to be more debate.

Corridors & Infrastructure Must Be Studied

Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s amendment to the act, which was unanimously accepted, includes a provision that the Secretary of USDOT must initiate a study of AVs on transportation infrastructure as well as mobility, the environment, and fuel consumption, includes impacts on the interstate system, urban and rural areas, and corridors with heavy traffic congestion. The DOT secretary is charged with determining the need for any executive policy or legislative changes, specifically on impacts of, and the interaction between, AVs & infrastructure, including signage and pavement markings, traffic lights, highway capacity and design.

3M Gets a Big Shoutout On Infrastructure

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who worked with Duckworth on the above amendment, is very interested in the issue of how AVs will interact with intelligent infrastructure. (This was a sentiment expressed by many others during the proceedings; many senators said that safety was a legitimate concern because of the lack of V2I infrastructure deployed across the country). She referenced 3M’s work on highway infrastructure. Understandable, since they’re based in Minnesota. Chairman Thune echoed the fact that 3M has been very involved and interested and “has a real desire to work with us”. Other senators nodded.

Safety Advocates Force Smaller Exemption Numbers

The most impactful of Sen. Blumenthal’s many amendments (some of which were accepted) reflected a lobbying campaign by groups that were concerned about AV testing on public roads, and provisions that would allow phased-in sales of AVs. So those numbers have been cut. For the 12 months after the bill’s passage, safety-standard waivers for vehicles allowed for sale or interstate commerce has been cut from 50,000 to 15,000. For the year after that, the cut is from 75,000 to 40,000, and the year after that, 100,000 to 80,000, which will remain the cap for five years at that point.

HAV Data Access Advisory Committee To Be Created

Sen. Inhofe’s amendment, the “HAV Data Access Advisory Committee Act”, restricts any agency of federal government to promulgate any rules regarding ownership, control, or access to any data stored or generated by AVs until a newly-created HAV Data Access Advisory Committee is able to make a report.

The committee, which must be formed no later than 180 days after the bill becomes law, will be a forum for stakeholders to discuss and make recommendations to Congress regarding AV-generated data ownership, control and access. Within two years they’ll make recommendations (those that are supported by 2/3 of voting members) and are specifically charged with considering “motor vehicle safety, intellectual property protections, compliance with vehicles under the motor vehicle safety act, consumer privacy, cybersecurity, confidential business information related to AV systems, public safety and transportation planning.”

Sen. Markey saw a similar amendment be adopted, which calls for the creation of a Motor Vehicle Privacy Database via NHTSA, where individuals can publicly access and easily search for any personally identifiable information on themselves gathered by AVs, and to learn the period the information will be retained and when and how it would be destroyed.

Drivers Still Liable

The AV START act states that “compliance with a motor vehicle safety standard does not exempt a person from liability in common law.” So, at least for now, the drivers of safety-standard-exempted AVs could be held legally liable for any accidents that occur during testing until an updated law is passed.

SAE Standards Are Officially “the” Standards

Get used to talking about AVs in numeral terms: the section of the bill requiring automakers to report on their safety standards to NHTSA added the language “including its SAE level”, so it’s now a sure bet that we’ll be talking Level 3, Level 4, Level 5 from here on out.

US-Based Production and Solutions Preferred

Sen. Udall’s amendment requires the DOT secretary to initiate a study on encouraging manufacturing within the US of automated driving equipment, intelligent transportation solutions, and other equipment, including hardware and processors. The study is meant to focus on how grant money and other funding sources could incentivize US companies to produce enough to be world leaders on everything AV-related.

These are just some of the highlights. The bill, which is seen as a shoo-in to pass the Senate, will still need to be reconciled between the House and Senate before it reaches the President’s desk, so while these amendments likely represent the act taking shape in preparation for reconciliation and enactment, we will continue to monitor the progress of the AV START Act and report any significant changes.

Sources used for this update: the content of a live-streamed executive session, the text of the AV START Act, and the text of amendments, all of which were provided by the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation’s website.

Rob Fischer is President of GTiMA and a senior advisor to Mandli Communications’ strategy team. GTiMA and Mandli Communications are both proud partners of the Wisconsin Autonomous Vehicle Proving Ground.

Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

Heath Davis-Gardner is a professional writer and editor who currently serves as Strategic Communications Specialist at Mandli Communications.

Metropolitan Areas + Autonomous Vehicles – Congestion = Savings

What would Chicago-area businesses and governments do with an extra 7 and a half billion dollars a year?

As business owners know, there are hidden costs everywhere, and not always in the most obvious places. One of the most significant hidden costs is caused by something people already hate regardless of its financial impact: traffic congestion. And according to a report authored by Toni Preckwinkle, President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, congestion costs could be as high as 7 and a half billion dollars per year.

That’s such a huge number, it’s almost hard to believe. But when you think about it a bit, it starts to make sense. Sitting in traffic burns gas and causes wear and tear on vehicles, which is obviously worth money, and also wastes time, which is also valuable, if slightly harder to quantify. When you have entire counties gridlocked in traffic all at once, that’s a lot of money going down the tubes at once. And businesses are forced to pass part of this cost on to the customer in order to remain profitable, so even if you aren’t a business owner or an elected municipal official, this problem affects you.

Cook County is the most-affected county in the nation by the total cost of congestion. The statistic bears repeating: 7.5 billion dollars a year lost in a county of 5.2 million people. That’s around fifteen hundred dollars per person every year! Of course, the cost isn’t distributed evenly — much of the brunt falls upon business owners that need to move goods through the country, and executives, whose time is worth quite a bit dollar-wise, who have to make it to meetings and get stuck in traffic when they could be fulfilling time-sensitive duties. Milwaukee County is also in the top 10 counties in the US when it comes to the dubious distinction of “most money lost to congestion”. When you consider the fact that fuel and wear-and-tear costs are exponentially worse as congestion gets worse, being in this particular top-ten is a really unattractive place to be.

And it’s not expected to get better on its own. In fact, it’s expected to get a lot worse on its own. Consider the following factors: A 3.8 percent increase in police-reported crashes this past year — the largest percentage increase in nearly 50 years. Annual GDP growth of 2.5 percent. Massive growth in e-commerce sales. An anticipated 2 billion people added to metro areas around the world by 2050. And ever-more dramatic weather impacts.

The answer to this lies, at least in part, in autonomous vehicles. We can’t know the exact numbers of how much will be saved when all vehicles are autonomous, we can only say that most — if not all — of congestion costs will disappear. But that’s a long way off from now. We can, however, take heart in a recent study covered by the MIT Technology Review. The study showed that just one autonomous vehicle controlling its speed intelligently in a traffic jam “reduces the standard deviation in speed of all cars in the jam by around 50 percent, and the number of sharp hits to the brakes is cut from around nine per vehicle per kilometer to around 2.5 — and sometimes practically zero.” What difference does that make? “Because fuel use increases when cars slow down and have to get back up to speed, the presence of the AV reduces fuel consumption … In fact, the savings is as much as 40 percent when averaged across all the cars in the traffic flow.”

By the way, 40 percent of $7.5 billion is $3 billion. And that’s just the expectation of the change caused by one AV in a traffic jam. What would be the difference with dozens of them driving along a smart corridor? That’s a figure that could be game-changing when the dollar amount is known. And why not start with the county that loses more than any other to congestion issues?

Let’s look at the trucking industry for a good perspective on this. The industry currently loses 996 million hours in delay per year. That delay is the equivalent of 362,243 commercial drivers sitting idle for an entire working year. Trucking costs per hour average around $64, so when you put the numbers together, the losses the industry takes as a result of congestion amount to roughly $63.4 billion. That’s close to $6,000 a year per truck.

When truck routes go through Illinois, the industry loses $2.67 billion a year — fourth-worst in the nation. The Chicago metro area accounts for $2.1 billion of those losses. Wisconsin takes a big hit, too — $1.74 billion a year.

The trucking industry, luckily, has a head start when it comes to automated and connected vehicle technology. The truck platooning model, which was deemed “near-market ready” by ATRI early last year, was found by that group to reduce fuel use by about 10%. That alone already represents savings that more than make up for the loss per truck per year in congested traffic. But that’s just for first-gen platooning, where the following-truck gap remains fairly conservative, in light of the new technology and lack of 5G communications. Studies have shown that closing that gap increases efficiency, though they’re not entirely certain what the exact figure will be when platooning can be optimally employed. Even as dictated by current numbers, though, the $6,000 per truck per year lost by these companies turns into a significant surplus of up to $15,000.

Even going by the conservative estimate, though, we’re talking millions of gallons of fuel saved per year. That’s not only a statistic that would come as wonderful news to trucking companies, to whom fuel represents a staggering 41% of operational costs, it’s also a savings that gets passed on to the companies’ clients — American businesses and manufacturers. And, no less importantly, it makes a major positive impact on the environment — trucking represents a full 10% of total US oil use.

So we know that platooning, in its most basic form, saves more than enough money to make up for the trucking industry’s congestion-related losses. And we also know that a single AV in a traffic jam cuts those costs almost in half for all vehicles involved.

What we don’t know exactly is how much more money, on top of those amounts, would be saved on a corridor with dedicated lanes for platooning, for autonomous vehicles, and equipped with low-latency V2I communications capabilities to help connected vehicles maximize current systems like automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. But the upside is so high, especially in a region hit hardest by congestion’s costs, that the time has come to find out.

Sources used in this article include ATRI’s “An Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking, September 2016”

The American Transportation Research Institute’s White Paper: “Heavy Truck Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control: Evaluation, Testing, and Stakeholder Engagement for Near Term Deployment, Phase Two Final Report”

ATRI’s “Cost of Congestion to the Trucking Industry, 2017 Update”

Rob Fischer is President of GTiMA and a senior advisor to Mandli Communications’ strategy team. GTiMA and Mandli Communications are both proud partners of the Wisconsin Autonomous Vehicle Proving Ground.

Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

Heath Davis-Gardner is a professional writer and editor who currently serves as Strategic Communications Specialist at Mandli Communications.

Looking Ahead: How AVs Will Impact Truck Drivers

When Americans talk about robots taking their jobs, they’re often thinking of factory work. Lately, however, the conversation has a new spin. “Autonomous trucks are taking drivers’ jobs,” so the claim goes.

It’s important to note that while this concern is being presented as a problem that’s already rearing its head, autonomous trucks aren’t taking drivers’ jobs — yet. That said, there is some truth to it: if we’re looking several years down the line, the concern is real, and we need to develop a plan.

1.7 million Americans are employed as truck drivers — making it one of the most common professions in the nation. But lately, truck driving jobs aren’t easy to fill. The American Trucking Association (ATA) estimates a shortage of about 40,000 drivers that could grow to about 240,000 by 2022.

The reason for the shortage is not entirely clear — trucking companies say that they’re having trouble replacing older workers entering retirement with young recruits, who seem less interested in the profession than previous generations — but we can all agree that driving a truck for a living is a tough job. The hours are long, and drivers spend the vast majority of their time alone. Not to mention the declining pay: in 1980, the average trucker in America was making an annual salary (adjusted for inflation) of more than $110,000. Today, truckers make an average salary of about $40,000 a year, all while putting in longer hours and sometimes having to overwork themselves as they compete with other drivers for the most profitable routes.

But the driver shortage isn’t expected to last long, and yes, that is the likely result of autonomous truck technology. A report from the International Transport Forum says that 70% of truck driving jobs could be eliminated by 2030 because of self-driving trucks. A White House report, issued on December 16 of last year, estimates job losses between 80% to 100%. As with many issues surrounding AVs, there’s no consensus on issues of timing. For instance, a Goldman Sachs analysis, cited by Business Insider, suggests that AV adoption will be slow for several decades and significant driver losses due to technology are perhaps 25 years off, which is clearly at odds with the ITF report.

How, you ask, is this shift going to change the industry and the truck driving profession?

In the future, truckers could work more like airline pilots, maneuvering big rigs onto the highway and then flipping on the autopilot for most of the trip, taking over again only when they have to get off the main route. But that doesn’t exactly explain the job loss. After all, there is still be a driver in the cab.

The explanation has to do, in large part, with the birth of a new technique — truck platooning —- which has already been proven to reduce fuel consumption dramatically in many studies. In fact, it’s expected to be the first “market-ready” connected-vehicle technique. The reason for its efficiency: aerodynamics. Following one another more closely than can be done safely by human drivers, wind resistance is reduced, making trucks more efficient.

A common scenario — involving trucking fleets and independent truckers alike — is that trucks would merge onto the highway and meet up at a station (think of the weighing stations that already exist). At this point, a lead truck is selected — note that this truck is expected to have a driver in it for the foreseeable future — and is “wirelessly connected” to a platoon of several other trucks, which are all automated and set up to receive precise instructions from their connected leader. Now, the platoon is ready to barrel down the highway – spaced by mere feet – to the next station, where trucks can be removed and added from the chain based on delivery points.

All of a sudden, what used to be a truck caravan starts to look more like a digital train, requiring only one driver, maneuvering in a reserved lane, which could be thought of as a railroad track. Point is, autonomous trucks will not be operating on the roads of today; they will be operating on the roads of tomorrow and, indeed, those roads look very different.

The workforce will look different too: there will be fewer drivers, but they will need to be technically savvy, able to troubleshoot the connected system that will make the platoons possible. And remember, the trucks that are following the leader are expected to be driverless before long. If all goes to plan, even the lead truck may be driverless after several decades of perfecting the process.

For technology enthusiasts, that all sounds exciting. But we must remember, when talking about job loss, we are ultimately talking about human beings, people whose dignity and well-being are at stake. So we need to be thinking ahead.

It’s easy to point out problems we may face in the future. What’s not as easy —- but incredibly important —- is beginning a dialogue about what can actually be done to offset the issues we can foresee.

There was an interesting op-ed in the LA Times recently that took this problem head-on. In it, several solutions were offered. For instance, we could already be thinking about adopting retraining programs for affected drivers. These programs have worked with some success when dealing with offshoring in other industries. We could also reconsider unemployment insurance. Laid-off drivers could receive adjustment assistance just like factory workers who lost jobs because of imports. And hey, we could get creative with how we fund these programs. As autonomous vehicle companies press Congress to enact laws that create a nationwide green light and a favorable regulatory framework for these vehicles, in exchange Congress could levy a tax on each driverless mile to finance the retraining, adjustment assistance, and/or unemployment insurance.

My point is not to advocate for or against these solutions, but simply to say that we could — and we should — be thinking ahead. While autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to do great things — increase safety, help the environment, and even mitigate driver shortages — it’s like any other major technological advancement, it comes with changes built-in, and not all change is easy.

The good news is that we can see what’s coming, and we have plenty of time to properly prepare for the future. It’s clear that autonomous vehicles will be a boon to industry across the world, but we can also take steps to make sure it’s not a body blow to the American workforce at the same time.

Rob Fischer is President of GTiMA and a senior advisor to Mandli Communications’ strategy team. GTiMA and Mandli Communications are both proud partners of the Wisconsin Autonomous Vehicle Proving Ground.

Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

SELF DRIVE Act Passes Overwhelmingly in US House

In today’s political climate, it’s shocking when an important bill passes in the House with a unanimous voice vote. Especially when it comes to federal regulations. But it just happened, and it’s a big deal for autonomous vehicle enthusiasts.

The Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution (SELF DRIVE) Act isn’t a law yet — it still has to make it through the Senate and, after that, the joint Congressional reconciliation process. But the Senate Commerce Committee is currently working on a similar legislative package, and previously-debated measures on the Senate floor have shown that they’re ready to pass some AV legislation. One thing’s for sure: this Congress desperately wants to find some legislation they can actually pass, and the AV bill’s broad bipartisan support makes it very likely to wind up on the President’s desk for a signature.

So what does this bill do exactly?

The quick take: Katie McAuliffe, a contributor to TheHill, put it succinctly: “The act correctly delineates the purview of federal versus state regulation for autonomous vehicles. In short, federal regulatory bodies have authority when it comes to the car, while states have authority when it comes to the driver.” That’s it in a nutshell. But let’s look a little more closely at what the newly-defined federal and state roles are and what comes next.

The new federal role: Assuming all goes as expected and a version of this bill becomes the law of the land, say goodbye to the patchwork of different state regulations for autonomous vehicle testing and manufacturing. NHTSA will be in charge of setting safety, performance, equipment and design standards for AVs, and automakers will be able to deploy up to 100,000 test vehicles apiece (read: vehicles that don’t meet federal safety standards), but only if they submit comprehensive safety assessment certifications to NHTSA and get its approval. Manufacturers will also have to develop cybersecurity measures and privacy protections.

The new state role: States will still have a lot of issues to figure out: pretty much everything that has a “human element”. The state responsibilities will include licensing, registration, insurance, qualifications for operation, law enforcement, crash investigation, congestion management and emissions inspections. They’ll also have oversight over sale, purchase, and repair of AVs.

What we’re still waiting for: Sec. Elaine Chao will release revised guidelines on AVs soon, which will update the Obama administration’s now-dated guidelines. NHTSA will also need to release AV-specific safety standards — but the position of NHTSA chief has yet to be filled by the Trump administration. (NHTSA does have acting administrators and an acting executive director in the meantime).

Some concerns remain: Axios points out that the vehicle doesn’t address autonomous trucks specifically, and could have the side effect of hastening their deployment, but that the Senate is considering holding a hearing on that issue specifically. Also noted by Axios was the lack of clarity in the government’s role enforcing standards for cybersecurity, which the House bill asks manufacturers to address — but judging by a set of bipartisan principles for AV legislation released by U.S. Senators Thune (R-SD), Peters (D-MI) and Nelson (D-FL), which names cybersecurity as one of the chief areas of concern for both parties, it seems likely that specific language will be added as the Senate takes over the effort.

And, finally, Axios raises the concern that as the 2018 midterms approach, the bipartisan spirit surrounding this measure might dissolve. While that does have a familiar ring to it, there are plenty of examples throughout recent electoral history where Congress managed to advance non-controversial legislation while it fell into gridlock on other issues. Both parties seem to be anxious to get these regulations into place, and neither party stands to gain anything but the ire of the public by choosing to slow it down. The fact that this passed the House with a unanimous voice vote speaks volumes, and it appears that the safe bet is that these proposed regulatory powers will become law before any national election approaches.

Rob Fischer is President of GTiMA and a senior advisor to Mandli Communications’ strategy team. GTiMA and Mandli Communications are both proud partners of the Wisconsin Autonomous Vehicle Proving Ground.

Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

Heath Davis-Gardner is a professional writer and editor who currently serves as Strategic Communications Specialist at Mandli Communications.