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America Walks Talks Pedestrian Safety and Autonomous Vehicles

Chris Snyder, a Masters of Public Health candidate and intern at America Walks, attended the first in a series of five dialogues to be hosted by the Federal Highway Administration across the country through the 2018 year, concerning the introduction of autonomous vehicle (AV) technologies to the American streetscape. Each of these five sessions is designed to facilitate and support the interaction between the varied stakeholders concerned with Autonomous vehicle use, including original equipment manufacturers, suppliers and freight companies, transportation services, and state and local governments and public sector agencies. The goal of these dialogues is for the FHWA to gather the detailed input that they need from stakeholders in order to best prepare to safely and efficiently introduce Autonomous Vehicle technologies onto roadways.

Chris represented America Walks as a stakeholder concerned with the implications that autonomous vehicle technologies may have for pedestrian safety and greenhouse gas emissions as the technology is phased into widespread use. During the course of the discussion, groups participated in breakout sessions, trying to establish clear needs for local, state, and federal policy that would help to facilitate the safe introduction of AV technology in a financially and environmentally sustainable manner.

Many key stakeholders agreed at the dialogue that AV technologies could have considerable impacts for safety and equity, but that if the technology was not kept in check, it may create a worse environment for active transportation users and widen inequalities based upon inaccessibility to developing technologies. The rising AV technologies additionally present an opportunity to reconsider urban design and planning, necessitating the restructuring of urban parking, curb space usage, and having considerable implications for the mobility of an aging population or persons with mobility difficulties who could not otherwise operate a vehicle.

When AV technologies become widely available, we will need to ensure that there is appropriate education and policies that promote the safety of walking, and other modes of active transportation or recreation, by working to retain pedestrian-friendly speed limits and road designs that allow for persons of all abilities to safely navigate where they live, learn, work, and play.

Want more information on the emerging technology of autonomous vehicles and pedestrian safety? Read America Walks statement on Automated Vehicles and check out the Every Body Walk! Collaborative Principles for Transportation Technology.