About the Research Area

Automated vehicles are those in which at least some aspect of a safety-critical control function—such as steering, throttle, or braking—occurs without direct input from the driver. Automation has the potential to transform safety, mobility, energy, and environmental efficiency, as well as to increase productivity and facilitate freight movement within the nation’s transportation system. The ITS JPO’s automation research is a major component of the U.S. DOT’s vision of supporting the safe, reliable, efficient, and cost-effective integration of automation into the broader, multimodal transportation system.

The U.S. DOT recognizes that public and private sectors must work in partnership to improve the safety, security, and accessibility of automation technologies and address the concerns of the general public. ITS JPO’s role in this joint effort is to facilitate multimodal automation research and collaboration in safety, infrastructure interoperability, and policy analysis.

Planned Activities

Safety: Activities will improve understanding of safe automated vehicle operations and generate actionable data and decision support results for the broader stakeholder community. Human factors research, such as simulator or naturalistic driving studies, is fundamental to safety. The ITS JPO will partner with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to support this research. Together, we will continue to study automated vehicle safety issues related to transportation system management and operation, highway infrastructure, and vehicles.

Infrastructure and Interoperability: Activities will support the safe interaction of automated vehicles among themselves, with other road users, and with highway infrastructure. The ITS JPO will partner with FHWA, FMCSA, the Maritime Administration, and the Federal Transit Administration to develop and test cooperative driving automation (CDA). CDA enables the machine-to-machine sharing of information that will allow roadway and port infrastructure users (e.g., vehicles, traffic signals, and mobile devices) to operate more efficiently and safely with a goal of improving transportation system performance and potentially reducing the costs of new construction by maximizing current infrastructure capacity limited today by human drivers. This program will support expanded stakeholder collaboration activities to develop and implement industry standards for CDA.

Policy Analysis: Activities will assess the impacts of automated vehicles on the general public and identify and evaluate critical issues related to automated vehicle adoption. Automated vehicle technology development continues to advance at a rapid pace, requiring a nimble and coordinated approach to policy development. The ITS JPO will lead Departmental research efforts in system dynamics (SD), which allows analysts to use simple causal interactions within a complex system to build a model that can demonstrate and quantify not-so-evident dynamic behavior. SD models are part of the strategic modeling toolbox, as they are aggregate, fast models that can provide essential insights for other strategic planning models. The ITS JPO will partner with FHWA and FMCSA to collect field data on CDA and other automated vehicle operations to improve ongoing analysis, modeling, and simulation development.

Program Resources

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • What are the benefits of automation?

Automated vehicles offer several potential benefits to our nation’s surface transportation system, including:

  • Reducing the number of crashes caused by drivers or other conditions (e.g., weather and roadway conditions)
  • Reducing aggressive driving
  • Reducing travel time and improving travel time reliability
  • Expanding the reach of transportation modes to underserved users, as well as providing "first mile, last mile" connectivity service for all users
  • Increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of existing transportation systems.
  • What will automation efforts look like for the ITS JPO?

Responding effectively to automation requires a cross-modal effort, as the expertise on various aspects of automation resides in many parts of the U.S. DOT. Cross-cutting tools—such as evaluation methods, data access and exchanges, and development of other decision-making tools—support these three areas.

  • How does the ITS JPO plan to advance automation? 

The ITS JPO will advance automation by:

  • Making human factors research results on interactions between users and automated technologies publicly available to deployers and policymakers
  • Identifying, researching, and documenting needs related to infrastructure readiness to support automated vehicle testing, deployment, and integration for knowledge transfer
  • Effectively documenting and communicating the safety implications of truck platooning through testing and real-world assessment
  • Identifying and documenting new roles for automation technology to address transportation challenges in accessibility, mobility, and availability of transportation (for instance, in underserved communities)
  • Using real-world demonstrations of cooperative automation to illustrate system performance benefits and spur public- and private-sector long-term investment, adoption, and use of these technologies.

For questions about the USDOT's Automation program, contact:

contact information

Kevin Dopart, Program Manager, Vehicle Safety and Automation
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology
ITS Joint Program Office
(202) 366-5004, Kevin.Dopart@dot.gov