Springfield is Vermont’s first town to host automated vehicle testing

Springfield Selectboard voted to allow automated vehicle testing on Class II, III, and IV town highways only. Stock photo
Springfield Selectboard voted to allow automated vehicle testing on Class II, III, and IV town highways only. Stock photo

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – Springfield recently became Vermont’s first town to accept the testing of automated vehicles on its town roads, after the Springfield Selectboard unanimously voted yes to this new progressive program set in motion by Vermont Agency of Transportation.

In January of 2020, the VTrans Director of Policy, Planning and Research Joe Segale made an initial presentation to the Selectboard about the Automated Vehicle Testing Act, the law passed in 2019 which allows for the testing of self-driving cars on state and town highways. The presentation was made to educate the Selectboard on the purpose of this new technology, as to decide whether they would ultimately participate.

“Springfield Selectboard Vice Chair Mike Martin saw a presentation I gave at a municipal training day in the fall of 2019, and I was invited to speak to the their Selectboard about a year ago, before the pandemic hit,” Segale said. “It was a good meeting and we reached out to the town to see if they were [still] interested, and they invited us to last week’s meeting at which they made the decision to approve automated vehicle testing in Springfield.”

Last week, the Selectboard again met with Segale, who is actively recruiting towns throughout the state to participate and unanimously agreed to allow automated vehicle testing, also referred to as “self-driving vehicles,” in the town of Springfield. The testing will take place on Class II, III, and IV town highways only.

In agreeing to participate in this new state program, the Selectboard feels that it is a great opportunity to solidifying Springfield as a town that welcomes digital technology, progressive thinking, and entrepreneurship moving forward.

VTrans has established strict guidelines for test vehicles, as well as a town municipality’s overseeing of the testing procedures and conditions. Additionally, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association has prepared a report that examines the implications of new vehicle technologies for highway safety agencies, which can be viewed at the Agency of Transportation section of Vermont’s state website.

There are multiple levels of vehicle autonomy, ranging from a lower level in which the driver primarily operates the vehicle with minimum automated features, to a mid-level that allows the vehicle more control but will also inform the driver when they must take control, to the highest level in which the vehicle can fully operate without a driver.

What are some of the potential benefits of “driverless” cars? The benefits depend on the level of automation, but the GHSA states that 94% of vehicle crashes are tied to human choice and error. Therefore, it is estimated that there could be a one-third reduction in crashes using level one automation, which offers forward collision and lane departure warning, blind spot assistance, and adaptive headlights.

Additionally, a transition to level four or five – driver attention not required – could help reduce the number of impaired driver-related crashes, which is the cause of 39% of vehicle fatalities. Other benefits include a potential reduction in driver costs and personal mobility improvements for older people and those with disabilities.

“Automated vehicle testing will continue for many years, and we will continue to spread the word and work with municipalities that are interested in allowing testing,” Segale added. “We are hosting the first-ever Vermont Automated Vehicle Exchange Feb. 8. The virtual forum will be an informative discussion around opportunities and challenges for testing automated vehicles or ‘self-driving cars,’ in Vermont.”

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