BELLOWS FALLS — The expansion of automated vehicle (AV) testing in Vermont represents a very slippery slope.
At the joint board meeting of the Rockingham Selectboard and Bellows Falls Village Trustees on Tuesday, June 29, the boards are expected to discuss and possibly make a critical decision on AV testing on our public roads.
As the state continues to promote its AV Testing program, citizens and officials need to be aware of the fatal flaw woven into the federal government's Automated Vehicles Comprehensive Plan.
This plan, from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), guides states and AV developers regarding testing. However, it lacks any muscle to regulate or to require comprehensive safety reporting transparency.
This omission is stunning. AV developers and manufacturers report safety data to agencies only on a voluntary basis. The plan is essentially a promotional document that emphasizes deregulation and gives center stage to corporate “stakeholders.”
* * *
AVs are not needed on our roads when more practical solutions exist for improvements to transportation systems, especially public transportation.
Basics of a more practical approach include expanding existing public transit routes, growing charging networks for electric vehicles, and converting more bus and agency fleets to electric.
Meanwhile, AVs on our roads threaten to be a costly, cumbersome, and hazardous solution. They can operate only with dependence on extremely complex, fragile, and vulnerable systems, with proprietary technology, and with costly enhancements to roadways - all while compromising public safety.
* * *
Powerful influences in dictating AV public policy shouldn't be underestimated.
Policies will be heavily influenced by corporations upon whose technology AVs depend. These will include powerful corporations providing hardware and services for semiconductor, broadband, satellite data, mapping, and cloud services.
Among those driving the big push for AVs are many of the large transportation and logistics companies. Allowing AVs access to public roads will save those large companies plenty, but it's unlikely that any savings will trickle down to the public.
The number of U.S. technology jobs that AV development might generate will pale compared to the many jobs AV promoters hope to eliminate - like drivers.
AVs eventually altogether eliminating drivers - especially commercial-sector drivers - is one of the goals of AV lobbyists.
If AVs become widely accepted, transportation jobs lost will include many of the more than 3.5 million U.S. truckers, according to preliminary 2020 census results.
As for any claims of AVs improving highway safety: A complete and objective safety analysis remains elusive in the absence of required comprehensive safety data reporting by AV developers and manufacturers.
Some of the points I've raised here, plus additional concerns, were also noted in comments by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (an independent-truck-owner-and-operator organization) and submitted earlier this year to the USDOT and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
* * *
Add to the above points how our state and federal government's ongoing effort to gain authorization for AV use on public roads is not based on demonstrated need.
A prudent response by municipal boards will be tabling the issue for at least five years, only to be revisited if the USDOT and other governing agencies have revised the Automated Vehicles Comprehensive Plan and related documents.
Comprehensive safety data reporting by AV developers and manufacturers must be included in revisions. Until an extensive and excellent AV safety record can be verified and studied, municipalities should reject the requests from state or federal governments for resolutions or approvals for testing this technology.
Vermont officials are expected to attend the Tuesday, June 29 joint board meeting of the Rockingham Selectboard and Bellows Falls Village Trustees to seek local testing approval.
Please urge our elected officials to govern in the best interests of the public by responding with a firm “no” to AV testing on our roads.