As part of our new transportation policy blog series, we are excited to feature our next guest Tara Andringa. Tara is the Executive Director of Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE), a nonprofit coalition focused on engaging with the public about automated vehicles and their potential to improve the safety, mobility, and sustainability of our transportation system. Applied is a proud member of PAVE. Prior to joining PAVE, Tara spent two decades as a communications director in the U.S. Senate, managing public relations for a Senate office and several Senate committees, including the Senate Auto Caucus.
What inspired you to choose a career in transportation? What do you enjoy most about your work?
I grew up in the Detroit area, so cars have been in my blood since the beginning. My dad worked for GM for 40 years, and auto safety was instilled in me at a very young age; in the 1970s, when most kids were piling into the “way back” of the family station wagon, my dad wouldn’t start the ignition of the car before everyone had a seatbelt on. After college, I spent over 20 years as the communications director to one of Michigan’s U.S. Senators, who also co-chaired the Senate Auto Caucus. As we addressed policies to advance automated technologies, I was tasked with translating Washington-speak into language for real people: How will these policies provide tangible benefits for your communities? How will this improve your quality of life and improve road safety for your family?
I believe deeply in the potential of automated vehicle technologies—to make our roads safer, to provide new travel options for people who can’t drive a car, and to make our transportation system more equitable, more efficient, and more sustainable. Every person is a stakeholder in our transportation system, and at PAVE, we seek to empower people with facts and knowledge so that everyone can participate in the societal conversation about the future of transportation. Automation provides us a once-in-a-century opportunity to rethink our transportation system, and we want everyone to have a voice in creating that transportation future so the new system can serve more people, more effectively.
Automation provides us a once-in-a-century opportunity to rethink our transportation system, and we want everyone to have a voice in creating that transportation future so the new system can serve more people, more effectively.
Which interesting use cases have you come across where emerging technologies are helping to solve a major pain point in transportation, such as enabling safety?
The most exciting aspect of vehicle automation is the transformative potential of the technology to make our roads safer and improve quality of life. It is so inspiring to watch innovators tackle enduring transportation problems with automated vehicle technologies. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation asked PAVE to partner with them in promoting their Inclusive Design Challenge, in which they provided awards to companies or individuals who designed innovations making automated vehicles accessible for people with physical or cognitive disabilities. Millions of Americans have travel-limiting disabilities, and this program works to ensure that these new technologies make travel more feasible for people who are not well-served by our current transportation system.
Other innovators are looking to this technology to provide food delivery services to people living in food deserts; to provide access to healthcare for rural communities; and to provide contactless travel for healthcare workers. The ultimate potential of automated vehicles is to be life-changing and life-saving.
In your view, what more can be done to build public trust in advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous vehicle (AV) technology?
What a great question—this gets to the heart of what we do. PAVE is a bet on the proposition that trust is built on understanding. We know from survey after survey that we have a significant challenge in the lack of public trust in AV technology. Thankfully, surveys also show that as knowledge and understanding grow, so does trust. PAVE's mission is to raise the level of public understanding of AVs in hopes that more knowledge will help this technology reach its potential to increase safety, mobility, and sustainability.
One good example of this challenge is the public confusion over the important differences between ADAS and AVs. As ADAS become more commonplace, many drivers don’t understand that an attentive driver is a must in every single vehicle available for purchase today (even when confusing marketing terms used by some companies suggest otherwise). That lack of understanding has led to crashes—including some fatal crashes—that undermine confidence in both ADAS and higher-level automation.
How can artificial intelligence (AI) play a positive role in advancing the future of transportation?
The scientists and engineers tackling the automated vehicle challenge don’t have an easy job; today’s roads are an incredibly complex environment. AI has enormous potential to help deal with this complexity, allowing careful analysis of large datasets and enabling better decision-making by on-vehicle systems. AI will enable stronger testing protocols, more rapid development of systems, and more safety and reliability in deployed systems. The work that Applied Intuition and others are doing is truly transformative in this arena. Technology is advancing at an incredible pace, and the timelines for automated vehicle deployment could be greatly accelerated by new applications of AI in simulation, development, and safety validation.
The scientists and engineers tackling the automated vehicle challenge don’t have an easy job; today’s roads are an incredibly complex environment […] AI will enable stronger testing protocols, more rapid development of systems, and more safety and reliability in deployed systems. The work that Applied Intuition and others are doing is truly transformative in this arena.
What’s one important development to watch in federal transportation policy this year?
Much work needs to be done on the policy side regarding automation. In the short term, one issue I’d love to see federal policymakers tackle is the ADAS versus AV education issue I mentioned earlier. As technology becomes more sophisticated, the issue of drivers not understanding their role in the vehicle is a critical safety issue. The “Click It or Ticket” campaign is a good example where the public sector and industry joined forces to raise public awareness of a highway safety issue, with great success.
Policymakers also need to ensure honesty in advertising; manufacturers should not be able to falsely suggest that a car can drive itself. This misleading advertising exacerbates public confusion, which has created a significant safety issue on our roads.