Keeping Drivers Safe in the Automated Vehicle Age
October 02, 2019

Pete Goldin

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a white paper discussing strategies for delivering safety messages to the public and preparing the criminal justice community to mitigate the ongoing risk of operator behavior as automated vehicles (AVs) take the road. The white paper, titled Automated Vehicle Safety Expert Panel: Engaging Drivers and Law Enforcement, summarizes the outcomes of a GHSA/State Farm interdisciplinary expert panel meeting.

The report stated: "If drivers of conventional vehicles do not understand that another vehicle in traffic will obey speed limits and stop signs, either because they cannot identify that it’s an Highly Automated Vehicle (HAV) or that they do not know that an HAV will obey these and other traffic laws, crashes will occur. Extensive HAV testing in California has produced more than 160 crashes, almost all resulting from a conventional vehicle striking an HAV. Many were rear-end crashes at a controlled intersection, where a following driver did not understand that the HAV would come to a complete stop."

The report also points out that HAVs will be phased in slowly, resulting in a mix of automation on the road: "In the coming decades the roads will be shared by vehicles with a wide range of automation: older vehicles at Level 0, lacking even cruise control; Level 1 and 2 vehicles with a wide variety of ADAS systems, some of which may tempt drivers into believing they can relinquish control; and Level 3 through 5 HAVs. SHSOs, law enforcement, and the highway safety community overall should expect to deal with the issues presented by the full range of these vehicles and their interactions with each other and with other road users."

The report recommends that State Highway Safety Offices, AV developers, law enforcement and other stakeholders collaborate on a number of steps, including:

■ Develop and deploy consistent, honest safety messages to the public about all forms of automation, from driver assistance features to full self-driving capabilities.

■ Maintain a focus on today's ongoing traffic safety challenges, such as impaired driving, speeding, failure to buckle up, distracted driving and sharing the road with non-motorized users.

■ Develop and deploy uniform policy and training for police, first responders and court officials about responding to and investigating AV crashes.

"Automated vehicles hold tremendous promise, but both driver-operated and highly automated vehicles will be sharing the roadways for a long time – maybe forever," said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. The expert panel agreed the highway safety community needs to continue to focus on operator behavior, attitudes and culture, which will likely continue to play a leading role in highway safety.

"Surveys show that many drivers do not understand or trust AVs, or appreciate their own operator responsibilities, likely due to the many mixed, confusing, or inaccurate messages about these features," noted Adkins. "We need to win the public’s trust and prepare them for safe use so that the lifesaving potential of this technology is not delayed."