Test Drive A ‘Self-Driving’ Car? Proactive NHTSA Can Help


Autonomous vehicles are just around the proverbial corner, and when the technology hits the streets in big numbers it will bring with it revolutionary ideas about mobility, including educating drivers about how self-operating cars work and how to operate them safely.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is getting ready for that day when streets and highways see a mix of autonomous and conventional driver-operated vehicles as the norm, a situation that will require research and oversight on safety issues (for drivers and occupants), drivers’ tests, licensing, regulation, and more. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines self-driving vehicles as, “those in which operation of the vehicle occurs without direct driver input to control the steering, acceleration, and braking and are designed so that the driver is not expected to constantly monitor the roadway while operating in self-driving mode.” In fact, NHTSA defines five levels of vehicle automation, from “No-Automation,” where the driver is in complete control of the car at all times, to “Full Self-Driving Automation,” where the car performs all the critical driving functions for an entire trip. Monitoring this breakthrough motoring activity will necessitate thorough explanations and understanding of vehicle features and capabilities, where, how and under what conditions they can be driven and other considerations, with the aim of reducing highway crashes and deaths. And the phenomenon will also require interaction between manufacturers, regulators and communities nationwide.

Enter NHTSA, and 10 designated ‘proving grounds’** to encourage drivers to ‘get to know’ and test out autonomous cars, to speed up standardization of national self-driving laws, and to share information and a collaborative spirit among everyone embracing the next-big-thing in driving.

** City of Pittsburgh and the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania

Transportation Institute

Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership

U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center

American Center for Mobility (ACM) at Willow Run

Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) & GoMentum Station

San Diego Association of Governments

Iowa City Area Development Group

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Central Florida Automated Vehicle Partners

North Carolina Turnpike Authority

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