NACTO Policy Statement on Automated Vehicles

Posted by Content Coordinator on Tuesday, July 12th, 2016



NACTO supports a future transportation system that provides a sustainable, accessible, and affordable backbone to the strong cities at the center of our 21st century economy. New technology has the capacity to reduce the footprint of vehicular travel, moving more people in new forms of medium and low density transit, while creating space for safe and inviting walking and cycling infrastructure. Positioning new mobility services to provide access and mobility to all, and to buttress rather than undermine the successful transit lines at the heart of our cities, is vital to realizing the value of fully automated vehicles for mobility. At the same time, policy at every level of government should address head-on the destructive potential for increased traffic, emissions from additional driving, and on-street congestion that could easily result from automated vehicle technology.

Shaping Automated Vehicle Technology

Fully automated vehicles (often referred to as level 4 automation by NHTSA) are a disruptive technology that will have widespread impacts on safety, mobility, land use, labor, and the built environment. Considering the complexity of urban environments and the many demands placed on city streets, as well as existing city policy goals of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles travelled, NACTO supports automated vehicle policies and regulations designed to:

  • promote safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, automated vehicle passengers, and all street users within the multi-modal urban context;
  • incentivize shared, automated, electric vehicles to reduce the environmental impacts of vehicular travel and refocus planning on the principle of mobility as a service;
  • support the future vision of communities as great places to live, work, and play by using technology as a tool to change land use as well as how streets are built;
  • rebalance the use of the right-of-way with less space for cars and more space for people walking, cycling, using transit and recreating;
  • support public transit by providing first and last mile connections to major transit lines via shared, automated vehicles, and by providing cost-effective, on-demand transit in lieu of low-performing fixed routes; and
  • improve mobility for all, contributing to a more equitable transportation system, where benefits reach all demographics and any negative effects are not unjustly concentrated.

To this end, NACTO supports the following principles as the transportation profession explores the future of automated vehicles.

1. Safety.
Plan for fully automated operation (NHTSA Level 4) to support Vision Zero
: In general, protection of humans of all ages and abilities—whether they are walking or cycling in parallel, or stepping off a bus in perpendicular to the path of travel—should be the primary goal of modeling and software development for vehicular movement on city streets.

Regulators and product designers should bar the use of partially automated vehicles (NHTSA Level 3) on any roadway without controlled access, like city streets. Such vehicles have been shown to encourage unsafe driving behavior, with drivers reading more, texting more, and generally being inattentive, while still operating under the expectation that the driver will take over if the vehicle encounters a dangerous situation.

Maximum operating speed in a city street environment should not exceed 25 miles per hour in order to support Vision Zero policies, lessening the likelihood of death upon impact for the human body. Reducing speeds to allow for sufficient stopping distance to avoid or mitigate crashes is critical for safety in a mixed traffic environment, particularly as vehicles approach crosswalks, intersections, driveways, or on-street parking

2. Rethink expressways.
Modernize plans for expressways, pivoting from expansion to modernization and management to account for the needs and impacts of automated vehicles. Existing lanes on expressways will be able to accommodate significantly more vehicles if they are able to platoon through connected technology, making new physical capacity unnecessary in the near future.

Transportation planning at all levels should refocus on modernizing existing expressways with instrumentation for new technology. This includes flow management of exiting traffic so that increased volumes on expressways do not overwhelm surface streets with traffic, simply pushing system failure to a new place on the network. Increased throughput on expressways and other limited-access roads will eventually need to be absorbed by local streets. Exiting flows managed by a connected vehicle network should be controlled so that they do not exceed local street capacity. Built-in vehicle routing software should avoid busy local streets for through traffic.

3. Modernize traffic data.
Develop and implement robust data-sharing requirements for new vehicle technology to improve the quantity and quality of data collected, and to reduce the millions of dollars spent annually on technologically primitive data collection, both from regular traffic operation and from traffic crashes. Traffic management will remain a function managed or regulated by the public sector even in a future dominated by private mobility providers. Public policies should foster open data platforms that enable robust private innovation to better serve transportation customer needs, while reducing aggregate social and environmental costs and inequities through a regulated utility model framework.

4. Plan with cities.
Include transportation professionals from cities in all planning processes at the national and state levels. To date, many discussions of regulatory action have taken place in state legislatures or at departments of motor vehicles (DMVs), which have limited experience with street operations. Regulators will benefit from discussions with city transportation agencies, which are charged with managing the majority of current traffic technology.

View full version (PDF): NACTO Policy Statement on Automated Vehicles

About the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)
The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit association that represents large cities on transportation issues of local, regional and national significance. NACTO views the transportation departments of major cities as effective and necessary partners in regional and national transportation efforts, promoting their interests in federal decision-making. We facilitate the exchange of transportation ideas, insights and best practices among large cities, while fostering a cooperative approach to key issues facing cities and metropolitan areas. As a coalition of city transportation departments, NACTO is committed to raising the state of the practice for street design and transportation by building a common vision, sharing data, peer-to-peer exchange in workshops and conferences, and regular communication among member cities. We believe that by working together, cities can save time and money, while more effectively achieving their policy goals and objectives.

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