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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

No matter how much developers test AVs, the world will still present unforeseen circumstances for vehicles to navigate. Researchers and policymakers want to mitigate these risks by making roadways more accommodating of mistakes.

The big picture: Road safety policy can help offset these challenges and better plan for AV deployment, particularly the Safe System approach that originated as part of Sweden's 1997 Vision Zero initiative. Countries that have implemented similar policies have seen declines in traffic fatalities, and others could follow their models.

Background: Real-world road accidents from 2018 illustrate the surprising variety of "unknown unknowns" vehicles encounter: a 20-fatality limo crash in New York caused by poor road design and vehicle maintenance; a speeding car launched off a raised median into a second-story office in California; and an Oregon roadway made slippery by a truck spill of 7,500 pounds of slime eels.

Details: The Safe System approach focuses on three intersecting tenets: Road safety is a shared responsibility; transportation initiatives are based on both experience and anticipated problems; and AV systems, like human drivers, are fallible.

How it works: Roadways and vehicle design can be modified to be more forgiving of mistakes and AV system shortcomings.

  • Enhanced lane divisions to prevent head-on collisions
  • Traffic-calming devices like roundabouts
  • Rumble strips to keep drivers in their lanes
  • Lower speed limits and alerts when those limits are exceeded
  • Structures to minimize lethality of crashes inside the vehicle (strengthened roof and chassis) and outside (safer designs for guardrails)

The bottom line: A roadway designed to accommodate human error, whether the human is behind a steering wheel or behind a computer, could better protect motorists, and the AVs that may soon populate it.

Laura Fraade-Blanar is an adjunct researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

Go deeper

Scoop: FDA chief called to West Wing

Stephen Hahn. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has summoned FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn to the West Wing for a 9:30am meeting Tuesday to explain why he hasn't moved faster to approve the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, two senior administration officials told Axios.

Why it matters: The meeting is shaping up to be tense, with Hahn using what the White House will likely view as kamikaze language in a preemptive statement to Axios: "Let me be clear — our career scientists have to make the decision and they will take the time that’s needed to make the right call on this important decision."

Scoop: Schumer's regrets

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images   

Chuck Schumer told party donors during recent calls that the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the fact that Cal Cunningham "couldn't keep his zipper up" crushed Democrats' chances of regaining the Senate, sources with direct knowledge of the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Democrats are hoping for a 50-50 split by winning two upcoming special elections in Georgia. But their best chance for an outright Senate majority ended when Cunningham lost in North Carolina and Sen. Susan Collins won in Maine.

Trump's coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas resigns

Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty

Scott Atlas, a controversial member of the White House coronavirus task force, handed in his resignation on Monday, according to three administration officials who discussed Atlas' resignation with Axios.

Why it matters: President Trump brought in Atlas as a counterpoint to NIAID director Anthony Fauci, whose warnings about the pandemic were dismissed by the Trump administration. With Trump now fixated on election fraud conspiracy theories, Atlas' detail comes to a natural end.

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