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How will autonomous vehicles affect the existing transportation infrastructure and are there any special considerations for self-driving vehicles on the road?

Discussion Leader: 
Posted Date: 12/28/2015

As new technologies develop, past predictions of high-tech advances are becoming closer to reality. For example, self-driving or autonomous vehicles were imagined at the 1939 World's Fair. Now, the Department of Transportation is looking at what will be possible in near future transportation technology. 

Connected vehicle-to-vehicle communication promise safer, more responsive travel. (Image Courtesy: U.S. Department of Transportation)


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Self-driving cars are not too far away, with testing ongoing, however the technology does open itself up to other issues. The same systems that are used to control and locate the vehicles can be spoofed, which may lead to an outside user taking control of the vehicle. Additionally, anything that may sever the link which controls the car could lead to additional concerns, such as a wide-area deadlock when signals go down. This opens up a realm of vulnerabilities within the transportation infrastructure that must be addressed before autonomous cars are implemented on a grand scale.

Recent news reports state Google and Ford will work together to build autonomous vehicles. It appears the capabilities are already in place. Google has tested more than 50 self-driving vehicles in California and Texas and Ford announced plans to test their technology on public streets in California.  (

One concern that will need to be considered is how autonomous vehicles will react in dangerous and non-dangerous situations. What if the vehicle is in a situation where it must "choose" whether to swerve and hit a cyclist or collide with another vehicle? And, in that case, how do today's laws determine fault? 

Autonomous vehicles is a trending topic that is gaining attention as it becomes a very near possibility. The most alluring feature of the self-driving vehicle is the prospect of making transportation safer, and avoiding traffic incidents that lead to thousands of deaths each year. However, before self-driving technologies can become a reality for the general public, the United States must address certain concerns, including establishing regulations, issues of liability, acceptance of this technology by the public, and security concerns of manipulating/hacking the technology.

The existing transportation infrastructure is another challenge for autonomous vehicles; for example, the self-driving automobile must be able to sense weather conditions in order to adjust speed, maneuver roadblocks/hazardous damage, and interpret traffic direction in cases where traffic signals fail. The existing transportation labor industry is another challenge for autonomous vehicles; for example, the self- driving automobile will reduce the need for taxi services and freight carriers once fully implemented, which will have a negative impact on the economy and unemployment. While autonomous vehicles are an exciting technology with many positive benefits, regulators and manufacturers should be careful to address all of these concerns before the technology is implemented on our roadways.