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US Department of Transportation announces $25M rural autonomous vehicle research program

The US Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT or the Department) announced a $25 million funding opportunity (RAVTRANS) for its Rural Autonomous Vehicle research program. Accredited universities are eligible to apply for this competitive, six-year cooperative agreement program.

Recipients will use RAV program funding to conduct research regarding the benefits and responsible application of automated vehicles and associated mobility technologies in rural and Tribal communities. One $15-million award will focus on passenger transportation, and a separate $10-million award will focus on movement of freight to support and enable automated freight and delivery vehicles serving rural areas.

Data from the US DOT Equitable Transportation Community (ETC) Explorer indicates that more than half of all rural census tracts in the US are in the 81st percentile or higher for transportation insecurity.

Transportation Insecurity is one component of disadvantage noted by the ETC Explorer and is indicated when people are unable to get to where they need to go to meet the needs of their daily life regularly, reliably, and safely.

While only 19% of the US population live in rural areas, 47% of all roadway fatalities and 34% of all public highway-rail grade crossing fatalities occur on rural roads, and the fatality rate on rural roads is two times higher than on urban roads. Emergency response times are more than twice as long in rural areas and almost 25% of Americans sixty-five and older reside in rural communities.

Automated vehicles have the potential to enhance roadway safety and increase mobility options for all Americans but have additional challenges to overcome in order to bring these benefits to rural communities.

Following are some examples of known challenges associated with RAV operations: differing types and conditions of roadways (i.e., paved and unpaved), unexpected obstructions, lighting limitations, non-standard signage, irregular design and markings, mapping discrepancies, under resourced emergency services, and Wi-Fi and cellular network limitations.

The RAV Research Program’s overall objective is to enhance the movement of goods and people in and through rural and Tribal communities by bringing the anticipated benefits of automated vehicles, with the primary focus on surface vehicles, to rural and Tribal communities and enabling economical, safe, and environmentally efficient movement of goods and people therein.


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