The Vehicles Are Coming… And They’re Driving Themselves!

MVA Administrator Christine Nizer discussing autonomous vehicles

Before you know it, cars will be driving themselves! At “Are We There Yet? Autonomous Vehicles and the Future of Transportation,” transportation experts discussed with MACo Summer Conference attendees how true that statement is.

Maryland Motor Vehicle Administrator Christine Nizer opened the presentation by explaining how our state is positioning itself to respond positively and assertively to emerging technologies, in coordination with Federal authorities such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Transportation Research Board (TRB), and American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), as well as the University of Maryland Center for Advanced Transportation Technology. She mentioned NHTSA’s site as a source for more information.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn appointed Nizer Administrator of the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) and Governor’s Highway Safety Representative in August 2015. Prior to that appointment, Nizer served as MVA’s Chief Deputy Administrator and Deputy Administrator for Central Operations and Safety Programs for over eight years. She also held management positions with the Maryland Public Service Commission, Maryland General Assembly and Office of Homeland Security.

Mark DeLuca, Deputy Director for the Howard County Department of Public Works and outgoing President of the County Engineers Association of Maryland discussed local government’s role in preparing for autonomous vehicles. DeLuca joined Howard County in 2001 after an 18-year career as an engineer in the private sector. DeLuca discussed how local governments will have to take land use impacts and transportation planning concerns into account when preparing for autonomous vehicles, which will interact with the built environment in a number of ways, including reading traffic markings on county roads to determine where to go and what to do next. Autonomous vehicles will reduce the need for parking, for example, and will also help reduce traffic fatalities, which are the number one cause of death for individuals ages 15-24.

Gregory Rodriguez, counsel with Best, Best & Krieger LLP’s Municipal Law practice group, discussed legal considerations for autonomous vehicles, such as determining responsibility in the case of an accident. If something goes wrong, is it the fault of the manufacturer, owner of the public right-of-way, or passengers – and if the latter, which one? He also pointed out that local governments will likely receive less revenues from parking tickets and meters when autonomous vehicles gain popularity.

Rodriguez provides legal and regulatory guidance concerning federal grant and contracting requirements, and monitors and counsels clients on legislation, rulemakings and funding opportunities related to transportation infrastructure. He previously served as in-house counsel for the San Diego Association of Governments where he provided legal guidance to the Mid-Coast Corridor Transit Project.

Edward Cameron, Administrator with the Automotive Safety Enforcement Division of the Maryland State Police discussed law enforcement considerations for autonomous vehicles. How would an officer pull over such a vehicle? Must they learn how to control them, or shut them off, in case something goes wrong? How will they respond to emergency vehicles? Will they aid officers in responding to crimes, as they will not have to focus on driving their own autonomous patrol cars? As special assistant to the Division Commander, Cameron performs legislative and regulatory reviews, and oversees the Division Training Section. He holds a degree in Applied Science in Automotive Technology, and has 30 years of experience in transportation and the automotive industry.

Delegate Pamela Beidle, representative of Anne Arundel County’s 22nd District and member of the House Environment and Transportation Committee and Maryland Autonomous and Connected Motor Vehicle Working Group moderated “Are We There Yet? Autonomous Vehicles and the Future of Transportation,”