Self-driving cars are making strides these days, and cities that want to be on the cutting edge are trying to drive pilot programs and improve their infrastructure so they can take advantage of the developing technology. Nashville is one of the cities that are looking for self-driving solutions, not just to be on the cutting edge, but to find solutions to long-term transit and traffic problems in the metro area.
The Aspen Institute and Bloomberg Philanthropies announced last month that Nashville was one of five global cities chosen for a self-driving vehicle initiative. The program includes Nashville, Austin, Los Angeles, Paris, and Buenos Aires. They still plan to add five more cities this year.
The initiative is called the Bloomberg Aspen Initiative on Cities and Autonomous Vehicles, and the program gives cities access to data and training on autonomous vehicles in order to help them prepare for the future of driverless cars, and to use those cars to improve city transportation problems.
For now, though, driverless cars in Nashville are still just a pipe dream. The initiative does not place pilot driverless cars in the cities, but rather provides tools for cities to prepare for driverless cars.
Nashville has lobbied at least one automaker to place a fleet of autonomous cars in the city, but so far has not been successful.
That depends. For now, driverless cars still have their own safety issues. A Tesla car that was driving in “autopilot” mode crashed in May, killing the man behind the wheel. There was another fatal crash in China in September, also involving a Tesla vehicle, but it is not clear if the car was on autopilot.
But current safety concerns aside, if driverless cars work well, they could be a great solution to a number of increasing traffic issues.
One problem that is on the rise in recent years is distracted driving. If you get more people riding in autonomous cars, there’s a good chance of reducing the number of distracted drivers on the road.
Driverless cars could also help with issues like road rage and congestion, and the affordability of taxis.
The distracted driving issue just keeps getting worse. According to reports from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security (TDSHS), 51 people died last year in crashes involving a distracted driver. And the number of crashes in general involving distracted driving was a record-breaking 22,964. That’s more than double of what it was in 2008.
While there is a law in Tennessee against texting and phone use while driving, it doesn’t cover all kinds of phone use, and sometimes police have to get a little creative in giving cell phone-using drivers citations. If they can’t prove the driver was texting, sometimes they opt instead for give citations for failure to exercise due care.
It may take a little creativity to be effective, but having driverless cars on the road could be a solution to congestion as well.
The city of Nashville recently released a new transit plan, and as part of that plan included a few suggestions on how to use autonomous vehicles to ease traffic congestion.
One suggestion is that some lanes of traffic on wider roads could be dedicated to buses and potentially autonomous ridesharing vehicles. Another suggestion is that autonomous vehicles could be used to help passengers travel short distances to get to bus or transit stations.
If self-driving vehicles are used for ridesharing or for providing easier access to bus stations, they may be able to play a significant role in easing congestion.
According to Lt. Bill Miller of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, road rage is another issue facing drivers in Tennessee.
“Road rage is a real problem. It’s a problem that law-enforcement agencies all across the state and all across the nation are seeing … the last thing that you want is a confrontation. Simply let law enforcement handle it because you really do not know, and I stress that. You do not know who that person is beside you. You don’t know what that person is capable of. You don’t know if they have a weapon,” he said.
He recommends avoiding eye contact, getting off the highway and going to a crowded parking lot, and calling 911 if you think you are in danger.
Recent incidents of road rage in Nashville and Knox County ending in fatalities are a sad reminder of the dangers on the road. Since computers are incapable of emotion, it is expected that an increase in the number of driverless cars would reduce road rage incidents.
Although self-driving cars are not yet ready to make a nationwide debut, the federal government is paving the way for automakers to up their self-driving car game.
The first federal guidelines and policies were released a few months ago in a joint appearance by the director of the National Economic Council and the secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Jeffrey Zients, director of the National Economic Council, said in a statement, “We envision in the future, you can take your hands off the wheel, and your commute becomes restful or productive instead of frustrating and exhausting.” He also said that autonomous vehicles will “save time, money and lives.”
The new guidelines issued by the Department of Transportation have a 15-point safety standard for designing and developing self-driving vehicles. They also issued a call for states to develop uniform policies for driverless cars.
Google and Tesla are pioneers in the field of self-driving cars, but they will soon have a number of competitors. Among automakers, besides Tesla, General Motors, Ford, Volvo, Honda, and Fiat Chrysler, all have some kind of self-driving car in the works.
Technology companies are also getting on board with developing their own autonomous car technologies and partnerships. The major players working on self-driving car testing and technology, besides Google, are Apple, Autoliv, Intel, Mobileye, and nuTonomy.
Although there are still a number of unknowns, Nashville is on the right track. By participating in a knowledge-sharing initiative, the city could be better prepared than most to accept and regulate the transportation of the future.