FHWA’s Nason Highlights Need to Reserve 5.9 GHz Spectrum for Transportation

Improving highway safety while reducing traffic congestion are two of biggest potential benefits from wider deployment of fully autonomous vehicles or AVs, noted Federal Highway Administrator Nicole Nason in a July 17 speech at the 2019 Automated Vehicles Symposium held in Orlando, FL.

However, she also stressed that reserving the 5.9 GHz wireless communication spectrum for the transportation industry will be critical to making those potential AV benefits become reality.

Nicole Nason. Photo by FHWA.

“[We’re] working to ensure there is enough bandwidth for widespread adoption of new AV technologies [and] the 5.9 GHz band is of critical importance to us in reducing crashes, injuries, fatalities, and overall traffic congestion,” Nason said in her remarks.

“That’s why it’s called ‘The Safety Band’ [because] this small slice of the spectrum is widely used by state and local departments of transportation for vehicle-to-vehicle and pedestrian-collision avoidance,” she explained. “It is also used for transit priority, traffic monitoring and congestion detection, traveler alerts, and snow plow and emergency vehicle traffic signal preemption.”

Nason added that the “Safety Band” is “at the heart of our efforts” to make AV technologies interoperable so they work seamlessly together. That said, however, she stressed that USDOT “is not interested” in promoting one particular technology over another.

Photo by FHWA.

“We know consumers will do that for themselves, which is why we want the auto industry, wireless technology companies, and other innovators to keep developing multiple technologies – so long as they can use the ‘Safety Band’ for transportation safety benefits,” she explained.

Other key issues Nason highlighted in her remarks include:

  • “There is recognition that automated vehicles will coexist with conventional vehicles, and at some point, operate side-by-side with them on the highways,” she said. “To this point, I want to reaffirm the USDOT’s position regarding the freedom of the open road. We want to protect the freedom of all Americans to make mobility choices that best serve their needs.”
  • FHWA is getting ready to make the first major update to Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices since 2009 and will be asking for public input later this year. “The updated version will reflect advances in technology over the past decade and support the operation of AVs,” she noted.
  • FHWA will also continue to develop a “concept of operations” to define the elements needed to safely and effectively prepare the roadway system to support the integration of AVs and related technologies. That includes continued focus on USDOT’s “Data For Automated Vehicle Initiative” and its initial effort to provide safer work-zone navigation for human drivers and automated driving systems alike.
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