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The Wild West is Back

We are no longer slinging guns and shooting at each other. We no longer ride horses at breakneck speed or sit on top of wagons with teams of horses pulling us, with just some straps of leather to control the them. Oh no! We have hundreds of horses power driving us at speeds the horses never attained and we may no longer have even the reins to control them.

That’s a bit “tongue in cheek” for what autonomous vehicles are doing. I mention the wild west because it started with California, then Nevada issued the first license plate, and today, in Transport Topics, we see that good ol’ Texas may have regulations that allow just about anything. Over the weekend I took note of the large auto companies, such as Ford, that are using their private work campuses for testing autonomous vehicles without controls. Since it is private property, like a test track, they can do just about anything they want.

Are autonomous vehicles really in our future? You can bet on it. Late last week, FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) issued its long awaited regulation on Electronic Logging Devices. It projects the rule will allow 1,844 crashes to be avoided, 562 injuries avoided and save 26 lives. Those benefits are for a calculated cost of less than $1900 per vehicle. I have not doubt that the safety benefits of autonomous vehicles will be significantly higher and the costs will be low enough to justify the regulation sometime in the future. I’ll be interested to see what is reported at the SAE Industry Government meeting in January regarding investigations into regulations for this area.
If you also look at the productivity improvements these vehicles will provide, the benefits are going to be impressive. Last week I came upon research being done at the University of Texas at Austin showing how traffic will improve at intersections when vehicles are autonomous. It looks scary at first, but traffic moves better than it does today. Check it out at AIM Autonomous Intersection Management.