- The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has announced that up to $60 million in grant funding is available for autonomous vehicle (AV) demonstration projects.
- The money will go toward multiple projects that test the safe integration of AVs onto U.S. streets and their transportation systems. The funding is for AV research and development, including identifying and addressing potential challenges to AV integration, with a focus on safety.
- Public entities — not companies or private universities — including local, state and tribal governments as well as transit agencies and public research institutions are eligible to apply. Grant applications are due March 21, 2019.
The rosy glow surrounding AVs lost some of its luster last year when safety concerns grew, in a large part because of Uber's deadly collision in Arizona. Public trust in the technology took a hit and calls for greater local and federal regulations intensified. The incident changed the discussion from simply covering what AVs will be able to do to figuring out how to do those things more safely. The deadly collision also appeared to have a slowing effect on the AV industry, in that technology and vehicle developers seemed in less of a rush to release the technology before the competition and put more emphasis on getting it right.
Local, state and federal governments are in a tricky spot with AVs because they don't develop the vehicles or related technology, but they are expected to ensure public safety through regulation. Yet, government's knowledge of such emerging technologies is limited. However, at this point leaders have a better idea of necessary safety requirements or at least the questions to ask about how AVs could affect the public.
Although federal AV regulation did not make it through the most recent session of Congress, the USDOT grants offer federal assistance in a different way. They will help public entities further gather information about and understand how to safely integrate AVs into the existing transportation system. One criterion is that the projects receiving the grant money must gather and share a significant amount of data with USDOT, which will better inform leaders across the country of both the risks of AVs and the opportunities to influence safety policies.
Certain demonstration projects will be prioritized in the funding determination process, such as those that hone in on transportation-challenged populations including aging adults and individuals with disabilities.