posted Feb 28, 2017

Driverless Seattle: How the City Can Plan for Automated Vehicles

Automated vehicles (AVs) are coming to Seattle, and now is the time for government officials to prepare for their arrival. So say the authors of “Driverless Seattle: How Cities Can Plan for Automated Vehicles,” a new report from the Tech Policy Lab at the University of Washington, produced in partnership with Challenge Seattle and the Mobility Innovation Center at the University of Washington.

At their best, AVs promote traffic efficiency – especially important in Seattle, which ranks among the most congested cities in the nation. AVs reduce the number of vehicle crashes caused by human error and mitigate human inefficiencies in the flow of traffic. They encourage ride-sharing rather than individual vehicle ownership. Moreover, they are already here: the Tesla Model S Autopilot system is available for purchase, the ride-share company Uber is testing AVs in Pittsburgh and Google’s AV fleet has already driven nearly two million miles autonomously.

But how will Seattle integrate AVs more broadly into its complex transportation and legal landscapes? The key, claims Ryan Calo, a UW School of Law professor and one of the report’s authors, is for the city to identify an AV strategy that will guide policymakers’ decision-making processes and initiate coalition-building with regional research institutions, public agencies, NGOs, and businesses. Seattle faces  difficult questions. Will the city enthusiastically promote itself as an AV innovation hub? Or will we take a more hands-off approach? Alternatively, will we put strict limits on AV use until the technology has proved itself in other municipalities? And what does each option mean from a policy standpoint?

Deciding a course of action will enable local and regional officials to make consistent policy choices, and communicate those choices effectively.

“Taking these steps now,” the authors argue, “will better position Seattle to continue to thrive in an eventual world of far greater automation in transportation.”

“Autonomous vehicles are going to fundamentally change transportation in Seattle, and we need to be ready for it,” said Christine Gregoire, CEO of Challenge Seattle. “This report offers a measured, research-based approach that will help Seattle prepare for a driverless future.”

“Autonomous vehicles are coming to cities, and in Seattle we're planning today for how they will operate alongside all the other ways we get around,” said Scott Kubly, director of the Seattle Department of Transportation. “This report captures the big picture and provides a solid foundation for next steps on AV policy making and implementation."

“Driverless Seattle” is the first product to come from the Mobility Innovation Center (MIC), which launched in March of 2016. A multi-disciplinary project housed at CoMotion at the University of Washington, the MIC brings together the Puget Sound region’s leading business, government and academic sectors to use technology and innovation to find transportation solutions.

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