Policy Research

Connected and Automated Vehicles Policy and Implications Research


  • Chris Hendrickson, Hamerschlag University Professor of Engineering
  • Don Carter, David Lewis Director of Urban Design and Regional Engagement, Remaking Cities Institute
  • Jeremy Michalek, Professor of Mechanical Engineering
  • Costa Samaras, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Technology for connected and automated vehicles has become a reality.  Carnegie Mellon’s own General Motors Laboratory vehicle completed a 33-mile autonomous trip on September 4, 2013 in mixed arterial and freeway traffic:


Partial automation for functions such as adaptive cruise control and lane following are already available commercially.  While significant development work remains, predictions of five years or less to commercial availability of autonomous, self-driving vehicles are offered by a number of car manufacturers.  Dr. Raj Rajkumar, CMU’s Co-Director of the GM Lab states: “the question is not if autonomous driving will occur, but when”.

Research paralleling continuing technology development has turned to the policy implications of autonomous driving.  Carnegie Mellon was contracted by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to begin to understand changes it should start considering with an autonomous driving system related to investment decisions, highway design, as well as operations and management of an autonomous system:


In January 2014, Rand Corporation issued its report: Autonomous Vehicle Technology – A Guide for Policymakers.  The Rand report was helpful in predicting changes and pointing out a number of areas where additional research is needed to understand an autonomous driving future.

The implications of autonomous driving have the potential to materially change surface transportation with far reaching economic, mobility, environmental, energy and urban form relationships.  With its broad research broad strengths across all of these fronts, the Traffic 21 Institute can add significantly to the understanding of an autonomous driving future.

Outlined below are research policy topics CMU is undertaking as part of its Traffic 21 portfolio.  The research team is seeking parnerships with interested stakeholders as well as funding to pursue this broad and important agenda.

Mobility and Access

  • What skills will be required to use connected/autonomous vehicles and as a result, what populations will have new mobility and access freedoms?
  • What will these new freedoms mean in terms of lifestyle, job and education opportunities?
  • What are the societal and economic impacts of the new mobility freedoms?


  • Automated/connected vehicle systems are predicted to drastically reduce, if not nearly eliminate, crashes and fatalities.
  • Some believe that the benefits of fatality reduction will far outweigh fatalities caused by less than perfected systems and, therefore, recommend approval by states and NHTSA for use of autonomous vehicles as soon as made available by vehicle manufacturers and OEMs.  What are the pros and cons of this policy issue?
  • Vehicle occupants will shift from being vehicle drivers to passengers.  Crash liability will also shift from drivers to vehicle manufacturers.  Are the public benefits of reduced crashes and injuries large enough to consider reducing vehicle manufacturer liability through governmental subsidy or legal relief?

Congestion and Vehicle Miles of Travel (VMT)

  • VMT has been steadily dropping for about five years.  How will autonomous driving impact the overall growth or decline in VMT?  Will there be differences in rural, suburban and urban areas?
  • How will congestion levels be affected by autonomous driving?  Can increases in VMT be absorbed with more efficient operation?

Public Transportation

  • Some predict that autonomous vehicle sharing will undermine use of public transit.  Is this likely?
  • How can public transit take advantage of autonomous vehicles?
  • What are the tipping point factors that affect people to use autos vs public transit?  What policies might be used to give an advantage to public transit? 

Energy and the Environment

  • How will unconstrained autonomous driving affect energy consumption and air emissions?
  • What policies should be considered to optimize energy and environmental impacts?
  • How will autonomous vehicles affect the use of alternative fuel vehicles?

Land Use

  • How will autonomous driving affect home, commercial and retail location choices?
  • What are the implications of autonomous driving on zoning and its myriad requirements?
  • Should incentives be used to encourage investment decisions?

Economy and jobs

  • How will autonomy change the manufacturing and service economies?