Walking down Main Street, it’s easy for most of us to see the cracks or potholes in our roads and realize our national infrastructure is crumbling. Politicians have spoken about the state of our roads and bridges for years, calling for increased investment and additional efforts to patch and reinforce the existing system of highways across the country.
The only problem with this sentiment is that our transportation goes beyond roads and bridges. It encompasses ports, railroad tracks, and airports. By fixating on the hypothetical pothole in front of us, we’re sure to miss the underlying problems and the need for a comprehensive overhaul.
Before Congress can address many of the physical problems hindering our safety and efficiency on the road, policymakers must ease the outdated regulatory obstacles that stifle innovation and growth throughout our transportation network. From ports, to highways and airports, regulations designed for a bygone era are forcing Americans to work with one hand tied behind their back.
The Revamping American Infrastructure Act, introduced by Representative Mark Meadows (R-NC-11), is a straightforward piece of legislation that requires the Department of Transportation to complete a comprehensive review of current regulations and identify existing prescriptive regulations that can be replaced by outcome-based performance standards. Further, the bill requires that, in the future, department rulemakings will develop standards around performance outcomes rather than prescriptive rules.
While the need for performance-based regulation was originally memorialized by Executive Order 12866, issued by President Bill Clinton in 1993, the Revamping American Infrastructure Act reaffirms these goals with an eye toward fostering the adoption of 21st century, innovative safety technology.
Now on the precipice of a technological revolution in transportation, we must be prepared to meet the regulatory challenges of vehicle connectivity, platooning, and automated vehicle technologies head on. As Dr. Peter Sweatman, Director of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, told Congress in 2015, the “success in deploying more powerful technologies will drive the volume and relevance of available data. Metrics therefore need to become less prescriptive, allowing the operator to use the most powerful measures.”
The lack of outcome oriented standards has already hamstrung autonomous automobile manufacturers who sought to replace the traditional rearview mirror with a suite of monitors and sensors. In late 2015, Google requested the NHTSA Office of Chief Counsel adjust rearview mirror regulation to consider autonomous vehicles’ monitors and sensors as a valid replacement. The NHTSA, however, held Google back from implementing an innovative technology, stating that they “cannot interpret Google’s [self-driving vehicle] as compliant with these standards and requirements,” and a change would need to be made through a rulemaking process. Rather than forge ahead with an innovative solution, Google has been forced to wait on a lengthy and burdensome rulemaking process that could take years and forfeit millions of miles test-driven by a fully automated vehicle.
Once implemented on a national level, advanced transportation systems, such as Smart Road Systems and automated vehicles, promise incredible improvements to road safety, fuel efficiency, and road congestion. Can we really afford to jeopardize these benefits by prioritizing prescriptive compliance over results?
The private sector continues to make investments in technology, including upgrading fleets and implementing new systems, to ensure our transportation network is as efficient, sustainable, and safe as possible for all drivers. We need the same forward-looking effort from our partners in federal and state governments so tomorrow’s cutting edge safety technologies are able to flourish.
Representing stakeholders across the transportation system, the Americans for Modern Transportation coalition applauds Representative Meadows’ leadership and views the Revamping American Infrastructure Act as an important step toward realizing the promise of outcome-based performance standards. Together, we can move America forward by creating a modern transportation system that is environmentally sustainable, technologically advanced, and increasingly safe.