The Next Ten Years: NMA Weekly E-Newsletter #520

We wanted to do something special for Issue #520 because it marks ten years of uninterrupted weekly NMA e-newsletters that, we hope, have provided entertaining (if not thought-provoking) perspectives. To carry on that tradition, NMA and NMA Foundation directors were asked to provide mini essays for the occasion. No one likes homework but they tackled this assignment with vigor because of the question posed: What significant challenges do the NMA and the driving public face over the next ten years?  

The directors’ predictions were held to about 250 words, a difficult task unto itself. Such an economy of words forces clarity of thought that benefits the reader (and keeps the newsletter to a reasonable length).

We would love to know what you think will be the biggest challenge facing motorists over the next decade. The most interesting entries of 350 words or less─we’re giving members a bit more leeway─for publication in subsequent newsletters. Your name can be published with your piece, or withheld upon request.

We’ll start with observations by James C. Walker, NMA Foundation Executive Director and longtime motorists’ rights advocate. Jim addresses an age-old issue for the NMA, one that is currently threatened by those who want to limit vehicle use in cities:

Using 85th percentile posted limits for safety and travel efficiency in urban areas is NOT obsolete, and we must defend this safest of methodologies. 

The NMA has made significant progress in achieving more realistic speed limits on rural freeways and reasonable limits on some of our urban freeways and rural two-lane highways. Our most serious challenge is to get and keep realistic limits on urban collector and arterial streets, the ones that should efficiently carry commuting, shopping, tourist, visitor, and commercial traffic in our cities.   

Many cities want unrealistic speed limits that render many safe drivers into speed violators, and in some cases, criminals. They know most people are unaware that posted limits have little effect on actual travel speeds. They know without expensive engineering changes, actual travel speeds will remain at levels most find to be safe, prudent, and comfortable. Artificially low limits often encourage for-profit ticketing rackets using both police and electronic devices such as cameras. 

Over the next ten years, we need to oppose the forces of the insurance industry, for-profit camera companies, cyclist and pedestrian lobbies, ITE, NHTSA, FHWA, NSC, NTSB, and others with the basic truth that posted limits have become disrespected and little more than warnings of potential ticketing risk. Without success in this area, enforcement for profit and encroached freedoms will be commonplace.

Gary Biller, NMA President, points to the advancement of technology and why motorists must become more involved in shaping policies and protections:

The major challenge facing motorists today is the growing push toward universally lower speed limits─speed kills, you know─and increased automated enforcement. Punishing citizens into submission sounds more like an authoritarian society than a free one. 

While protecting free-flowing, efficient speed limits is, and always will be, a primary mission of the NMA, the assignment here is to predict major challenges that will be facing drivers and the NMA over the next ten years. Technology marches forward, aided in the case of self-driving cars by billions of research dollars. Still, I find it highly doubtful that within a decade individual car ownership, and indeed the human driver, will become obsolete.  

More autonomous vehicles will be on the road. Shuttle buses, delivery vehicles and ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft will operate somewhere between conditional automation (with a person poised to intervene) and full system automation. But with self-driving and connected-car technologies advancing, we mustn’t lose sight of the need for strict privacy, security and liability protections. 

Self-driving vehicles must communicate with each other and the infrastructure to perform effectively. The “system” will know a great deal about the occupants, from identity to travel patterns and even personal habits/preferences. How this information is guarded will be of utmost concern. 

Human driver–robocar interactions on the road will become more frequent. No matter how complex the self-driving car algorithms, accidents and, yes, fatalities will occur. We’ve already seen where the reaction from deep-pocket carmakers like Tesla is to automatically blame the other party in such incidents.  

Consumer protections notoriously fall far behind technological advances. The only way we will stop that trend is with strong NMA advocacy and more substantial involvement by the driving public.

Chair of the NMA Foundation Board Steve Carrellas adds his take on cutting through the hype regarding the future of human driving:

Are ACES good to have when gambling?  Automakers GM and Ford think so as they are betting their futures on this acronym for Autonomous, Connected, Electric and Shared vehicles.   

Ten years ago Google began development of its autonomous vehicle (AV) technology and now its subsidiary Waymo started the first commercial service of driverless ride-share vehicles in select Arizona locations. Testing by automakers and tech companies has been happening for years and it has become clear that promises for significant availability of true AVs were hype. And that’s just from the technology perspective.   

The legislative and regulatory aspects have been a slow go. Several states have created rules for AV testing while Congress has been unable to pass legislation to enable standards for this technology. Then there are the urban stakeholders who want to ensure AVs don’t intrude on their vision for a livable city that frowns upon vehicle travel.   

What does the future hold for motorists whose mobility choice is driving their own vehicles (even with autonomous capability)? The short answer comes from the perspective from John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, a car guy himself with impressive car-industry experience.   

Krafcik says Waymo doesn’t want to do away with driving altogether, just the driving that’s unpleasant and boring.  “It’s going to be a long, long time before someone takes my hands off the steering wheel of a car,” he said.  He actually doesn’t even think it’s possible for Waymo or any company to entirely replace human drivers in all conceivable scenarios─at least not in the foreseeable future.

The challenges facing motorists in coming years are many and varied. Policing for profit, automated enforcement, road user fees including renewed interest in congestion pricing, sharing the roads with algorithm-driven vehicles . . . the list goes on. Tell us what you think will have the greatest impact on motorists over the next decade, and tell us why.


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