Assessing technology, liability, safety and public acceptance in the autonomous future

Carol Schweiger, President of Schweiger Consulting and Chairperson of the New England Intelligent Transportation Society, discusses five vital areas for autonomous vehicle deployment.


As someone who has spent the majority of their career providing technical assistance to public transport agencies for the planning and deployment of technology, staying up to date on autonomous vehicles (AVs), and everything related, has been challenging. Therefore, my expectations of the Automated Vehicle Symposium 2018, held in San Francisco from 9-12 July, were that I would learn a lot, particularly about technology, liability, safety and public acceptance. I hoped to be able to engage with colleagues in how AVs could transform public transport and overall mobility. My expectations were met, and then some.

I have five major observations from the conference.

Consumer acceptance is not guaranteed

Firstly, the industry recognises that consumer acceptance of AVs cannot be assumed – this message permeated almost every plenary presentation. According to a study1 discussed in one presentation, when asked “how likely would you be to ride in a fully-autonomous, self-driving vehicle without a human driver’s input”, there is an almost equal number of people who definitely or probably would, and who definitely or probably would not. The second plenary presentation, entitled ‘Pathway to Automation: Transition from [Collision Avoidance Systems] CAS’, mentioned this too, in terms of needing to manage driver/passenger expectations.

Other plenary presentations discussed:

  • How we can prove that AVs are safe
  • The significant operational challenges of AVs
  • The need for incentives to encourage people to share AVs
  • The need for the industry to fully understand customers’ expectations, perceptions, concerns and motivations regarding AVs
  • What the net positive (and opportunities to mitigate negative) social impacts of AVs are
  • What the potential impacts of AVs on traveller behaviour are
  • What the impacts of AVs on public transport are
  • Whether AV adoption will lead to more or less jobs
  • How AV adoption is correlated to income levels
  • Whether the length of trip will affect AV adoption 
  • How AVs can provide societal mobility benefits to sustain life and keep economic activities vital.

AVs for passengers with reduced mobility

The second observation is that despite the intense focus on AV technology and testing, there are significant discussions taking place about making AVs accessible for passengers with reduced mobility and disadvantaged populations. For example, “AVs, ATTRI [Accessible Transportation Technologies Research Initiative] and other complementary technologies have the potential to bring about many transformational changes to the lives of passengers with reduced mobility. While major efforts to support the development of AVs are underway in both the public and private sector, it is important to explore pathways that ensure these new technologies are accessible and available to everyone; the deployment challenges, technology and policy barriers are understood”.2

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not specifically address AVs, but it does provide an opportunity to design AVs with features that will ensure they are accessible, meaning they would not need to be retrofitted after they are produced. The National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC), which is funded by the U.S. Federal Transit Administration, contributed some statistics to the discussion about the need for AV accessibility and equity, as follows3:

  • The number of U.S. residents aged 65 and over is projected to increase to 72 million in 2030 and 88 million by 2050 (10,000 people turn 65 every day)
  • Nearly 16 million people aged 65 and over live in communities where public transportation is poor or nonexistent (which is expected to grow rapidly as Baby Boomers remain living outside of large cities)
  • Ninety-two per cent of older people intend to ‘age in place’
  • Twenty-two per cent of Baby Boomers are now (or are at risk of becoming) ‘elder orphans’ – individuals who have no family members, friends or neighbours to provide transportation for them.

Accessible AVs have been developed and deployed by Robotic Research, LLC, first for the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security, and now in the commercial market. Their “technology has operated on roads in various locations, such as Fort Hood, Fort Bragg, Greenville and Afghanistan.”4 Furthermore, they developed an accessible AV that can be used for paratransit service with automated accessibility capabilities including an automated loading and securement system which provides passengers with reduced mobility the ability to ingress/egress without any human aid as well as rapid loading of wheelchairs.

This type of vehicle directly addresses the fact “that transportation is only one part of the complete travel experience. The journey planning must include getting to the vehicle, getting into the vehicle, the trip itself and getting from the vehicle to the final destination”.3

AVs can also potentially address rural transportation challenges. NADTC states that the proportion of people age 65 and older is higher in rural areas than it is in urban areas and their numbers are expected to increase over the next decade. AVs could assist people in rural areas who are not driving and where there is limited or no available public transit. Overall, any improvement in mobility using AVs or other innovative solutions “has a direct impact on personal physical and mental health, as well as quality of life.”


If AVs are to be a viable option, they must be shared

Shared AVs

Thirdly, AVs are just one set of emerging mobility services in the transportation ecosystem. But for AVs to be a viable option, they must be shared. As stated earlier, shared mobility cannot be assumed – it will take a concerted, cooperative and coordinated effort among mobility service providers to encourage sharing. Such an effort is gathering recognition among “cities, [non-governmental organisations] NGOs, academic institutions and companies”5called the Shared Mobility Principles. These 10 principles were discussed in a meeting of the U.S. Transportation Research Board (TRB) Forum on ‘Preparing for Automated Vehicles and Shared Mobility’ which preceded the start of AVS 2018. The principles are as follows:

  1. We plan our cities and their mobility together
  2. We prioritise people over vehicles
  3. We support the shared and efficient use of vehicles, lanes, curbs and land
  4. We engage with stakeholders
  5. We promote equity
  6. We lead the transition towards a zero-emission future and renewable energy
  7. We support fair user fees across all modes
  8. We aim for public benefits via open data
  9. We work towards integration and seamless connectivity
  10. We support that autonomous vehicles in dense urban areas should be operated only in shared fleets.

Required research

The fourth observation is that while AV research and technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, research is still needed in specific areas. The aforementioned TRB Forum on Preparing for AVs and Shared Mobility, which was established in early 2018, has been identifying potential areas for research/further research. Members of the Forum, which include representatives from the public and private sector, academia, mobility service providers and relevant associations, as well as participants in Breakout #2 on 9 July 2018, rank-ordered a list of research needs as follows (in descending order, with 1. being the most important and 10. being the least important):

  1. Models of data-sharing
  2. Potential safety scenarios during the transition to highly automated vehicles
  3. State and local policies to ensure safety prior to deployment
  4. Infrastructure enablers for AVs and shared mobility
  5. Net positive (and opportunities to mitigate negative) social impacts of AV deployment and shared mobility
  6. Addressing social inclusion and equity
  7. Potential impacts of higher level AVs and shared mobility on traveller behaviour and freight movement
  8. Impacts of shared mobility on transit and vice–versa
  9. Implications for transportation planning and planning models
  10. Impacts on land use, and how use impacts AVs and shared mobility.

These research needs will be further refined in the future since they are currently unbounded and cover a wide variety of sub-topics. Eventually, each research need will be considered to become a task within the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Project 20-102: Impacts of Connected Vehicles and Automated Vehicles on State and Local Transportation Agencies.

Figure 1: AV impact assessment

The impacts of AVs

My fifth and final observation is that there will be significant impacts on the overall transportation system when AVs become more prevalent. USDOT has developed a framework to assess AV impacts, as shown in Figure 1. This framework includes modelling mobility, energy and emissions on a freeway, developing a safety baseline, addressing the system dynamics of broader impacts and collaborating internationally on the development and use of key performance indicators (KPIs). Also, the framework will assess the potential economic and workforce impacts from vehicle automation by analysing the macro economy including gross domestic product (GDP) growth, employment/jobs, wages, consumption, exports, etc.6


  1. JD Power, Miller Canfield and Mcity—Affiliate Law Research Program, Automated Vehicles: Liability Crash Course, March 2018, © 2018
  2. Description of AVS Breakout Session #20, “Understanding User Needs, Accessible Design, and Deployment Challenges to Maximize AV Benefits,” Tuesday, July 10, 2018, 1:30 PM – 5:30 PM
  3. Carol R. Wright Kenderdine, Easterseals, Inc., Co -Director, NADTC, presentation to Breakout #21, AVS, San Francisco, Tuesday, July 10, 2018
  4. Edward Mottern, “Robotic Research, LLC: Offering Innovative Engineering Solutions since 2002,” presentation to Breakout #21, AVS, San Francisco, Tuesday, July 10, 2018
  6. Finch Fulton and Kevin Dopart, “U.S. DOT Automated Vehicle Research Activities,” presentation to AVS 2018, July 12, 2018


automatedCarol Schweiger is the President of Schweiger Consulting and Chairperson of the New England Intelligent Transportation Society. She is internationally recognised in transportation technology consulting, providing over 55 transportation agencies with technology technical assistance. She has authored numerous Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Synthesis reports and full TCRP reports. Currently, she serves as co-Chair of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Committee on Emerging and Innovative Public Transport and Technologies, a Charter Member of the Public Transportation Systems and Services (PTSS) Committee of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America and member of the International Program Committee of the ITS World Congress and TRB ITS Committee.