Prepping responders for automated vehicles

A new report proposes a curriculum for helping first responders, police and crash scene investigators understand rapidly changing automated vehicle technology.

The advent of automated vehicles has presented responders with a host of new challenges. While car manufacturers are outfitting new vehicles with options for adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, blind spot detection and lane-keep assistance, automated driving systems (ADS) are not standardized across the industry, creating challenges for public safety personnel encountering them on the road or at accident scenes.

In theory, ADS could lessen the potential for human error and prevent fatalities, but the increased use of this emerging technology presents new risks. One of the primary issues for the public safety community is knowing how and when responders, police and crash scene investigators should deal with ADS-equipped vehicles that behave erratically, as happened when Tesla recently issued a software update that caused cars to slam on the brakes at highway speeds.

Information about ADS capabilities is especially important, as roadside workers already risk their lives responding to accidents. In fact, nearly 500 individuals lost their lives between 2011 and 2020 while tending to disabled vehicles, not to mention the hundreds that get injured every year.

To better prepare emergency personnel for the complexities of automated vehicles, a new report from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) outlines how public safety workers can better understand and interact with ADS-equipped vehicles and provides the foundations of a training curriculum for responders.

VTTI researchers worked with responders, law enforcement officials, crash investigators, government administrators, automakers, insurance professionals and ADS advocates to explore how automated vehicle technologies can be integrated into the U.S. fleet without interfering with current operations and to determine common training needs.

The report covers interacting with different ADS technologies and capabilities, the oversight responsibilities of various levels of government, accessing data and anticipating enhancements. Appendices feature specific information on the current and future state of ADS technologies, research on public safety providers’ interactions with ADS and recommended policies and best practices. Resources like the AV TEST initiative and links to the National Safety Council website, which promote public awareness and education, are also provided.

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