FHWA Request for Information Regarding Automated Driving Systems

This blog just posted a couple of days ago, but this topic can’t wait, so we are posting again today. On January 18th the Federal Register published a Request For Information from FHWA regarding automated driving systems (ADS). It asks DOT’s, manufacturers, trade associations, and other interested parties for their answers to questions in ten specific areas.  Download Docket FHWA-2017-0049. All comments must be received by March 5th, so please get started.

The work zone ITS world should be most interested in questions 4, 5, 9 and 10. You will also be interested in many of the other questions if you are involved in static signs, pavement marking or other permanent roadway safety infrastructure.

First, let’s commend the FHWA for asking these questions. It wasn’t long ago that we worried that automakers and regulating agencies did not know what they did not know. A great deal of time and effort has gone into building coalitions with these folks and it appears that is beginning to pay off.

So lets’ reward their curiosity with well written and timely responses. You can do so individually and/or through your industry associations such as the American Traffic Safety Services Association.

We will start the ball rolling now with these suggested responses to the four questions mentioned earlier. These are short in the interest of time, but should be fleshed out in any formal response.

Question 4: How should FHWA engage with industry and automation technology developers to understand potential infrastructure requirements?

Include work zone ITS providers and trade associations like ATSSA in the conversation. Many of us are already participating in AV events including the Automated Vehicles Symposium, the ITS World Congress, etc. Presentations at these events focused on work zones have lead to many productive conversations and several “ah-ha” moments for AV manufacturers. Please encourage more of this going forward.

Question 5: What is the role of digital infrastructure and data in enabling needed information exchange between ADS and roadside infrastructure?

Work zones will be the most common anomaly in digital maps unless we begin preparing now. Arrow boards, flagger stations, and other active work zones can be equipped to report their location and other pertinent information automatically and in real time. The same could be done for emergency responders and special events. Only by doing so can we hope to prevent crashes like the one reported January 23rd  ( Mercury News ). Safety is the driving force behind this initiative, but it will also reduce drive times, reduce air pollution, and improve the efficiency of our road networks.

Question 9: What variable information or data would ADS benefit from obtaining and how should that data be best obtained?

Work zones are the single most frequent cause of non-recurring congestion. Clearly real-time work zone data should be included. This data must include the precise location of the work zone, when and where lanes are closed and when they are opened up again, where flagging operations are taking place, and any other important features of the traffic control including lane splits, narrow lanes, crossovers, and full closures and detours. Finally delay times should also be included whenever available.

Question 10: What issues do road owners and operators need to consider in terms of infrastructure modifications and traffic operations as they encounter a mixed vehicle fleet during the transition period to a potentially fully automated fleet?

It is estimated that it will take at least 20 years to reach a point where the vast majority of vehicles are highly automated. Until then work zones will be just as dangerous for conventional vehicles as they are now. Don’t scrimp on traffic control devices, signage or pavement markings in the hopes that they won’t be needed.

As for those automated vehicles, most will not be capable of navigating autonomously though an active work zone. Plan to trigger the vehicles to hand over control to the driver well in advance of the work zone. Studies show drivers need a minimum of 8 to 10 seconds to regain situational awareness.

Work zones, incident response, and special events will test these systems more than anything else. Make them a big part of the conversation now to avoid problems in the not too distant future!