Autonomous vehicles pride themselves on being able to navigate our busy roads without driver input, however, in order to do that certain smart technology may need to be installed. Before we can test the efficiencies of “smart infrastructure” with autonomous cars, our roads will need to be repaved and updated. According to the Federal highway Administration there are 4.12 million miles of road in America, of which 2.68 million miles are paved. America’s roads are less than optimal for driving, a factor that even apps like Waze (a popular navigation app) have taken note of, by offering an option to place pothole and road condition alerts for other users. Lines often fade, or are poorly marked over, causing confusion, potholes are abundant, and many traffic lights find themselves flashing uselessly every time a storm rolls in.
While it seems autonomous cars have been mostly successful in their test drives, many of the cars switch from autonomous to manual driving on poorly paved and lined roads. While the cars may be focused machines with no form of distraction or impairment, if their lasers, radars, and cameras cannot locate road lines and use that to geo-locate themselves, or center themselves on the road, they cannot work. It’s like putting drunk goggles over the car’s “eyes.”
Surface transportation infrastructure may change completely with the onset of self driving cars. Think back to when the automobile was first invented, roads went from being wider and made of dirt to accommodate horse and buggies, to paved and thinner, as cars took up less space. As vehicles become increasingly more automated and connected, our existing infrastructure will need to evolve to help ensure safety and reliability. Enhanced signs, road markings, and traffic controls will need to be designed, funded, and installed to ensure safety in case one of the technologies fails, to pave the way for the data-driven environment of tomorrow.
We cannot build a new infrastructure on top of a crumbling foundation. We also cannot hope for better human drivers if lasers and radar cannot navigate our roads. In order for this new technology to work, we must regulate and maintain our roads.
A graduate of George Washington University of National Law Center, Thomas J. Curcio is an author, speaker, and personal injury attorney. He has been named one of DC Best Lawyers Personal Injury Litigation and co-author of “Evidence for the Trial Lawyer." His experience includes the successful representation of injured passengers of the 2009 WMATA (DC Metro) Fort Trotten train crash.