USF researchers shape policy for driverless vehicles


In the near future, a person may get in a car, direct the navigation system toward a destination and a computer will turn the wheel, push the gas and pump the brakes without any human effort. 

A self-driving car is the future reality  that USF’s Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) envisions with its new Automated Vehicle Institute. 

Stephen Reich, the transportation finance and management program director for CUTR, said the group faces challenges on the road ahead. 

As progress toward creating the technology ensues, there are more questions than answers, he said.

“If one crashes, who’s to blame?” he said. “The car manufacturer? The driver? The road owner?” 

Autonomous vehicles have the potential to change the way society functions, Reich said. Driverless cars could create ripple effects, consequently changing the future of public transportation. 

“When a car drops you off, where does it go?” Reich said.  “Is there a special lane for these cars? Will we own these cars? Will car ownership be a thing of the past? If this technology is coming, understanding the transformability of transportation is necessary.”   

However, there are barriers to a driverless future – barriers Reich said CUTR is determined to overcome. 

Jason Bittner, director for CUTR, said technological capabilities are no longer the problem,  but logistics and future policy are. 

“Most accidents are caused by human error,” he said. “Automated cars have the potential to make the roadways safer. Regulation, consumer acceptance – those are the things that are going to get in the way. We’re engaged in the policy implications, the safety implications and the human implications.” 

Though Bittner said he doesn’t know for certain when automated cars will become a part of everyday life, CUTR is making strides to develop policy that will get society closer. 

CUTR will host the first Project Plan and Working Group at 1 p.m. today near the Richard Beard parking garage, an  event open to the public to brainstorm about implications automated cars will have on the Tampa Bay area. 

“This is setting up a conversation for future implementation,” Bittner said. “We’re working with the local community to make Tampa a leader in the implementation of automated vehicles.”

Business leaders and governmental officials are expected to discuss the future of roadways and the policies required to ensure safety. Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe and City Council Member Lisa Montelione will be in attendance.

“We’re just getting started,” he said. “And there’s a lot more expected in the near future.” 

Last month, the U.S. Department of Transportation approved Lee Roy Selmon Expressway as one of 10 testing zones for the sensors and cameras used in automated vehicles.