April 15, 2024 6:18 pm
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Leaders in DC Should Pay Attention to Colorado’s Embrace of Autonomous Vehicles | Opinion

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Councilman Chris Hinds

Back in April, Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper sent a letter to United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. The purpose of the letter was to pressure the secretary to put in place the federal policies necessary to accelerate the deployment of autonomous vehicles nationwide. 

For those who believe autonomous vehicles have the power to transform communities, the senators’ letter was a welcome sign.  Our nation will only realize the true power of autonomous vehicles if Washington, DC, catches up to Colorado in enacting smart, supportive policies.   

In their letter to the Secretary of Transportation, our senators wrote that autonomous vehicles have “significant implications for mobility, workers, the economy, and society at large.”  They then went on to explain that the technology can deliver good-paying jobs, safer roads, a cleaner environment, and a more equitable future to communities across the country. As we move from summer to the colder more inclement months we continue to face transportation challenges. 

To some, the senators’ vision for the future might sound too good to be true, but one only has to look at developments in Colorado to know they are right.   

Colorado has become a testing ground for autonomous technologies.  In 2021, the nation’s largest fleet of all-electric autonomous shuttles launched right here in the Centennial State.  The project, Autonomous Vehicles in Colorado or AvCo, was designed to demonstrate how self-driving technology can make roads safer, make transportation more accessible, and make the climate cleaner through reduced greenhouse gas emissions. 

How did Colorado, with its wintry weather and mountain roads, become a leader in the deployment of autonomous vehicle technology?   The answer is an early embrace of automated driving systems by the state’s leaders.  In 2017, Colorado enacted legislation establishing the state as “one of the most forward-leaning states in the country” in this policy area.  

The importance of our leaders’ early embrace of the technology cannot be overstated. For communities like mine that consist of people that have vision impairments and physical disabilities, the future of autonomous vehicles cannot be overstated. Many of us look to autonomous vehicles as liberators for our mobility and independence. Once autonomous vehicles are a reality, we won’t have to worry about everyday issues like whether someone is illegally parked in a space reserved for people with disabilities – instead we’ll be able to be dropped off at our destinations. As a society, we also won’t need large swaths of land reserved just for parking — autonomous vehicles will be able to park themselves, or better yet drive someone else around after dropping off someone at their destination.  

What’s happening in the region is groundbreaking, but to unleash the power of autonomous vehicles in all communities, we need federal action too.  

We need more momentum for smart national policies.  That’s why I’ve joined Mountain West Self-Driving Future, a project of the tech-industry group Chamber of Progress.  We are combining forces to advocate for federal policies that will bring safe, reliable autonomous vehicles to more people.

As supporters of federal action in this area, we were happy to see Senator Bennet and Hickenlooper’s letter.  

The Mountain West has shown the rest of the country that the benefits of autonomous vehicles are real. Safer roads, high-paying jobs, greater access to transportation, increased mobility, and reduced emissions are within every community’s reach.  All we need are innovative federal policies that unlock these benefits for all Americans.  

Colorado is showing the way.  It is time for DC to catch up. 

City and County of Denver Councilman Chris Hinds is a supporter of Mountain West Self-Driving Future.