The Driverless Commute: Finally out of dark days of early 2000s, do airlines need to be scared of AV disruption threat?; Florida OKs fully self-driving cars; and the long list of new tie-ups and break-ups

1. Disruption

The years that followed the September 11, 2001 terror attacks were uniquely challenging for airlines, but consolidation, cheap fuel and savvy management (not to mention taxpayer bailouts) finally delivered some much-need ballast to the industry only within the last decade.

Now, with profits finally stabilized, new problems are on the horizon.

Fresh research out of Embry-Riddle, the world’s largest aviation and aerospace university, finds that travelers’ appetite for the increasing ordeal of air travel, in particular short-haul travel, is threatened by the convenience of automotive autonomy.

In the study, researchers submitted trips of different lengths and asked respondents whether they would drive themselves, take a flight or ride in a self-driving car.

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The Driverless Commute: Cities aren’t planning for AV deployment and that’s a problem; NHTSA is weighing rewrites of car and commercial vehicle rules; US lags global rivals over lack of national legislation

1. Urban (not)planning

Cities were once highly compact and walkable places that blended residences and workplaces and where people commanded primacy. But that was before the automobile.

Cities were once highly compact and walkable places that blended residences and workplaces and where people commanded primacy. But that was before the automobile.

Now, the modern American city is nothing if not an ecosystem in service of these two-ton forces of congestion. Add up all the 18-lane highways and surface streets, the sprawling blacktop parking lots and sky-high decks, and you find that more than 60 percent of some cities’ precious downtown real estate has been devoted in some way to cars.

Depending on your preferred expert, autonomous vehicles will either reverse or accelerate the very worst symptoms of car-oriented urban planning: congestion, pollution, sprawl.

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The Driverless Commute: New Federal Autonomous Vehicle Rules on the Horizon

On Wednesday, May 22, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced they will publish in the Federal Register advanced notices of proposed rulemaking (ANPRMs) seeking public comment on possible amendments to two sets of federal regulations that impact autonomous vehicles: the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). The NHTSA notice is available here, and the FMCSA notice here. Both agencies’ calls for public comment are aimed at determining whether the rules and regulations currently in place could hamper the effective rollout of autonomous vehicles.

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The Driverless Commute: Groups ask NHTSA to pump brakes on GM AV petition; USPS goes driverless; the last-ten-feet problem; and Cruise can make left turns in San Fran better than you

1. Public comment season

Cruise vehicle

Groups representing property and life insurance providers, car dealers and consumer safety advocates were among those who lined up to oppose a petition by General Motors to deploy on public roads as many as 5,000 autonomous vehicles that lack conventional operational controls, such as a steering wheel.

  • GM first asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in January 2018 for a special dispensation to skirt the Federal Motor Vehicles Safety Standards, which explicitly require a steering wheel,  acceleration and braking pedals and the like.
  • If approved, the car giant said, it would deploy 2,500 zero-emission driverless cars each year for two years as part of a new on-demand ride-sharing initiative.
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The Driverless Commute: Senior Senate GOPer pledges to renew push for federal AV bill, again; is China going to leapfrog the US in the AV leaderboard?; and a RI cop pulled over an AV shuttle because it looked weird.

1. New hope for federal AV framework? Doubtful.

Senate Republicans will rev consideration of a long-stalled comprehensive federal framework for driverless cars, a top GOP lawmaker signaled Thursday.

The House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation last year to authorize and regulate self-driving cars, but a parallel proposal in the upper chamber crashed into the ditch over Democratic objections relating to cybersecurity and safety thresholds. Because the last Congress adjourned without the Senate voting on the bill, both chambers must now start from scratch.

Senator Roger Wicker, who chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said in a speech at the US Chamber of Commerce that he was hopeful that the wrinkles from last session could be ironed out.

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The Driverless Commute: If AVs take more risks now in early-phase deployment, will they be safer in the long-term?; big electrification news on both coasts; an electrified future for LA while Trump is open to spending on EV charging networks.

1. Humans can’t stop rear-ending slow-moving autonomous vehicles. But who’s to blame: the human, whose behavior mirrors norms if not law, or the paralyzed robot?

Car collision

When autonomous vehicles have been involved in collisions, four years of data teach us that it’s almost always been the fault of a human driver. At least, that’s the black-and-white view generally held by law enforcement.

But autonomous vehicles are so strictly engineered to obey the rules of the road and to avoid statistically dangerous maneuvers that it begs the question whether this overly cautious approach to driving is inviting more chaos within the exiting mobility framework.

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The Driverless Commute: A light pollution solution in AVs; Tesla-taxis; and Waymo’s app is up for download

1. Seeing in the dark

Nighttime skyline

A new paper published this month in the journal of Science and Engineering Ethics posits that autonomous vehicles could help break the industrialized world’s addiction to artificial nighttime light.

  • Light pollution from cars, street and parking lot lamps all wreak havoc on our natural world. Seduced by the other-worldly glow of towers and lamps, insects are lured to their doom, baby turtles are beached and birds crash and clatter.
  • Street and parking lot light represent some 90 percent of all outdoor illumination from the industrialized world.
  • 1.6 percent of all energy consumed globally is poured into streetlights while headlights consume roughly 3 percent of vehicular fuel.
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