Safety, Collaboration and the Next Generation of Mobility

By Kirk Steudle, Director, Michigan Department of Transportation

Kirk Steudle, Director, Michigan Department of Transportation

Thirty-one years ago, I began my career at the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). From that first day as a registered professional engineer to my current role as director, my top priority has been making transportation and Michigan’s roadways safer and more efficient.

"The groundbreaking legislation provides more accurate and proper testing of automated vehicles on real roads in real situations"

That’s why I was an early champion of connected and automated vehicles (CAV) and related technology. During my tenure with MDOT, I have seen technological advancements come and go, as solutions that were once relevant are unable to address 21st century transportation needs. Watching the evolution of CAVs and the mobility industry, however, I can confidently say where we are going is truly exciting and has the power to change the way we live.

While there are many benefits to self-driving cars, trucks and buses moving people and goods from one place to another, the greatest reward is the potential to save lives.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 37,000 people died in motor vehicle-related crashes in the U.S. in 2016 and preliminary data suggest that number climbed to 40,000 in 2017. When you add to that the more than 2 million people injured each year and the fact that more than 94 percent of serious crashes are due to human error, the life-saving advantages of assisted, automated and connected vehicle technologies are undeniable.

As we move closer to a future of autonomous vehicles, MDOT and the state of Michigan are working side-by-side with automotive, tech and education leaders to foster the research, rigorous testing and eventual production of CAV technologies. All of this work is being done in a way that protects the public’s safety while allowing the evolving mobility industry to grow.

In 2016, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill into law making Michigan the first state in the nation to establish comprehensive regulations for the testing, use and eventual sale of autonomous vehicle technology. The groundbreaking legislation provides more accurate and proper testing of automated vehicles on real roads in real situations. The legislation also established the Michigan Council on Future Mobility, a 21-member advisory committee charged with, among other items, recommending policies that ultimately influence industry standards.

As a co-chair of this important group, I had the privilege of presenting the Michigan Council on Future Mobility’s 2018 Annual Report to Gov. Snyder last month.

The report effectively aims to cultivate the legal, economic and regulatory ecosystem to facilitate and support the transformation of mobility across all modes of transportation in the state, and serves as a public policy blueprint for other states and countries.

Key recommendations from the report include:

• Educating itself and policymakers on future mobility, from needs to solutions, for all modes of transportation.

• Connecting the public and private sectors to foster innovation and practical advances in mobility.

• Engaging local communities and partners to promote and advance personal mobility.

• Promoting equitable access to future mobility options, especially for those who are economically disadvantaged, persons with disabilities, and seniors.

• Ensuring effective cyber security standards for safe and efficient transportation.

• Addressing and evaluating implications for risk management, insurance and product liability laws.

• Assessing the need for structural improvements to public and private infrastructure to facilitate deployment of new technologies that enhance personal mobility across all modes of transportation.

While there are still many unanswered questions as we look to evolve the future of transportation, this report is a concerted effort to identify where knowledge gaps and opportunities for exploration exist.

Michigan’s forward thinking public policy efforts also helped pave the way for the grand opening of the American Center for Mobility (ACM). The state-of-the-art testing hub located in Ypsilanti serves as the destination for mobility companies to take their innovations from the drawing board to the open road. And the world-class, federally designated facility would not have been possible without the collective efforts of corporate founders, industry, and government and academic partners engaged and committed to making ACM a reality.

Our commitment to fostering transportation innovation and collaboration not only crosses sectors, but also borders. Just last year, Michigan and Ontario joined forces to execute North America's first international, cross-border automated vehicle test drive across the Canadian and U.S. border.

For connected and autonomous vehicles to be successful, they need to communicate with other vehicles on the road, as well as with infrastructure, pedestrians and border crossings. That’s why we are working with our partners across the state’s mobility ecosystem to test and gain the real-world knowledge that will help revolutionize the global transportation landscape and ensure the eventual safe and seamless transition of these technologies into our daily lives.

Through a strategic approach rooted in public-private cooperation, Michigan is blazing the trail for innovation in today’s mobility revolution. This effort, however, is about more than just making self-driving vehicles a reality. It’s about making roadways in Michigan and across the globe safer and more efficient.

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