Autonomous Future: Report projects $14B shortfall in road maintenance, job displacement

State News

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Autonomous and connected vehicles are already here in some form or fashion.

Mostly they are equipped with low-level autonomy for things like assisted braking, parking staying in your driving lane.

Advancements are coming quickly and inevitably. As such, the Ohio House of Representatives Transportation Committee has just completed a year-long study of the subject and is about to release a report of its findings and recommendations.

The report breaks autonomous vehicles down into 5 levels.

In Level 0 the driver does all the driving.

In Level 1 an advanced driver assistance system is in place that can sometimes assist the driver with either steering or braking/accelerating, but not both at the same time.

In Level 2 an advanced driver assistance system is in place that can control both steering and braking/accelerating at the same time under certain circumstances. A human drive is still needed however to perform the rest of the driving tasks.

In Level 3 an automated driving system is in place that can perform all aspects of driving under certain circumstances. This level requires a human to be ready and able to take control of the vehicle when the system requests the human do so.

In Level 4 an automated driving system is in place that does all of the driving under certain circumstances and monitors the driving environment, removing the need for the human occupant to pay attention to what is going on around the vehicle while the system is operating the driving function.

In Level 5 an automated driving system is in place that does all of the driving all of the time. The human occupants are simply passengers and have no impact on the driving.

It is expected that this technology will have the potential to fundamentally change how our society transports goods and people, as well as render services.

The key take away is the expectation that vehicle related accidents resulting in death or serious injury will decline with the continued advancement of automated transportation.

That alone will impact fields you may not have considered.

Personal injury lawyers will likely see a decrease in available cases as few accidents occur.

The organ donor industry also has concerns over the projected drop in accidents, as a portion of the organs received and then used to save another individual’s life come as a result of a tragic fatal car accident.

What our highways look like today may still look the same, but the number of businesses that line them may fade without a need for drivers to stop and take a break with high Level automated driving systems in place.

The report points out that while some industries will be impacted in a negative way, other groups will benefit. The automation is expected to open up access to new employment opportunities while providing a level of freedom to those who currently cannot afford reliable transportation or the ability to lead a more independent lifestyle, such as the blind.

The report points out that this budding transitional time poses several questions for the General Assembly, such as how does it maximize the technology’s benefits while mitigating the negative socioeconomic effects of it?

Designed to provide lawmakers with a basic understanding of the technology and its potential effects, the report will be used as a starting point to learn how automation could impact Ohio and its people.

It states that Level 4 could be reached as early as next year to as late as 2025; and that Level 5 is expected to be reached sometime between 2035 and 2050.

There are already Level 2 vehicles in circulation here in the U.S. with the Tesla Autopilot which released in 2015 and enables the vehicle to follow the lane that it is in, switch lanes on command, park itself, and be summoned remotely. In 2017 General Motors launched its Level 2 system Super Cruise.

General Motors also recently petitioned the government to allow them to remove the steering wheel, pedals and other driver controls for a modified Chevy Bolt.

Meanwhile, Audi has brought to market the Audi A8, the first Level 3 vehicle. It will have the Audi AI traffic jam pilot that will take over in certain circumstances. Due to regulatory issues and U.S. law, the function will not be operational here in America.

Ford plans to bring a Level 4 vehicle to market by 2021, as has BMW.

The report goes on to break down current expectations as to when automated driving systems will be in place in vehicles and to what extent.

Vehicles with ADS will start showing up in the 2020’s with large premium price tags and are expected to make up 2 to 5 percent of vehicle sales and 1 to 2 percent of the fleet on the road.

By the 2030’s they are expected to carry a moderate premium price tag and make up 20 to 40 percent of sales and be 10 to 20 percent of the vehicles on the road.

By the 2040’s they are expected to carry a minimal premium price tag and make up 40 to 60 percent of sales and be 20 to 40 percent of the vehicles on the road.

By the 2050’s, just over 30 years from now, they are expected to be a standard feature on most new vehicles, consist of 80 to100 percent of sales and make up 40 to 60 percent of the vehicles on the road.

By the 2060’s, when some of us will not be around to see it, ADS will be at a saturation level meaning everyone who wants it has it; and sometime after that it is expected that the function will become required for all vehicles on the road.

The report discusses the lag time between government action and dealing with the lifespan of infrastructure, and advocates for discussion to deal with the issues now rather than later.

This is supported by agencies like the Ohio Department of Transportation, which is facing a significant shortfall in funding to maintain roads and bridges should nothing change in the foreseeable future.

For years revenue from the Gas Tax has been flat as cars have become more fuel efficient or moved away from gasoline altogether.

If the revenue issue is not addressed, the report projects the State will experience a $14 billion shortfall in maintenance costs because the purchasing power ODOT currently has will continue to fall as revenues decrease and material costs rise.

The report points out, those materials are not only to the benefit of automated vehicles of the future, but to drivers like you and I today.

Fresh pavement provides better grip for tires and thereby shorter stopping distances.

Marked roadways with clearly stripped lanes help us see where the lane is, as it does for automated vehicles.

When it comes to the smart technology already being worked on for vehicles, ODOT is already looking at ways it will have to adjust how it monitors and controls traffic on Ohio roadways.

While I was at ODOT they told me of plans to use the shoulder of I-670 during peak times as an extra lane of travel.

Access to this lane, as well as the speed limits on three highways in disparate parts of the state will eventually be able to be monitored and controlled from their campus just west of downtown Columbus.

Beyond the infrastructure needs, the report details what the State is already doing to create an environment conducive to attracting automated driving systems and connected vehicle technology.

It urges the General Assembly to ensure that the policy and regulatory environment incentivize and promotes this technologies continued testing and deployment.

The report goes through what it describes as the three core responsibilities of the General Assembly and the Governor that need to be met for Ohio to remain a leader in this industry.

The report promotes a burdensome-free regulatory environment where the State allows the Federal government to handle the vehicle safety, cyber security, and data privacy standards.

It also pushes a focus on building the State’s infrastructure by investing in basic maintenance and integrating smart technology.

It also looks at workforce and the changes that are already starting to occur as a result of this technology with the current shortage of high-skill labor and the eventual displacement of low-skill labor.

While not meant to be used to frighten people, the report doesn’t sugar coat the reality that some individuals are going to lose their jobs over this.

It won’t be immediate, and it won’t be all at the same time, but it is likely to happen sometime in the next few decades.

Because of this the report puts a high level of significance on the legislature being prepared to offer help to those who are displaced through investment in workforce training and development.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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