For over a year, the state of Vermont has been aggressively promoting their testing program for automated vehicles (AVs). State experts advise us that AVs on our public roads are slated to be an inevitable part of Vermont’s future. Statewide very few municipalities share the enthusiasm. To date only Springfield has authorized the AV testing program.
There have already been promotional presentations in Bellows Falls to bring the testing program to village and town roads. The subject is expected to be discussed yet again at a Joint Board meeting March 30 – meeting agenda and Zoom details will be posted at the town website: www.rockinghamvt.org. The testing program acknowledges how it is the first step in the introduction of completely driverless vehicles.
I applaud the wisdom of Vermont towns that have looked after the public interest by rejecting AV testing on their roads. A green light for the AV testing program will start Vermont down a very slippery slope.
But before careening down that slope proposed by the state, the performance of our daily technology warrants a review: Internet, our phone, Zoom meetings, our GPS, etc. When those frangible everyday tools fail, we’re annoyed but we emerge unscathed. That’s because we didn’t trust automation technology to control a vehicle traveling at 80 feet per second (55mph) and as close as a blink of an eye from other vehicles or pedestrians. Like most digital technology, AVs controlled by automation will be vulnerable to failures and hacking.
Claims of AVs having potential in Vermont have all the credibility of a robocall. The promotion of the AV program has imaginatively conflated AVs with an array of solutions to urgent problems, even though much more immediate, practical, and beneficial solutions exist.
If the state succeeds in its pursuit of AVs, Vermont roads will become their game board, and everyone and anything on the board will be unwitting players. In our local scenario, the state is asking us all to grasp at the latest shiny thing and embrace the next new wonderful. It’s a policy hustle we needn’t fall prey to.
Not since the 1950s promise of “Electricity too cheap to meter” have authorities made a sales pitch of this magnitude. When their promise was broken and the electric bills kept coming, many of us learned to rely on a more dependable adage: “If it sounds too good to be true, it is.”
I’m counting on the wisdom of my elected officials in Bellows Falls and Rockingham to reject authorizing automated vehicles on our roads.
Bellows Falls, Vt.