1. Opinion

No driver? No problem in autonomous vehicles. | Column

Makers of autonomous and connected vehicles are building and testing the next generation of cars that will transform transportation in America and around the world. Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed HB 311 into law, which will help elevate Florida's prominence as a leader in this technology, encouraging multinational companies to test their products here in the Sunshine State.

The legislation, drafted by Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, and embraced by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, removes the requirement for an operator, or even a passenger, in a certified autonomous vehicle while driving on public roads. It's among the most forward-looking legislation in the country, and it creates an environment for numerous economic development opportunities for Floridians as we embrace this new technology.

Florida already has multiple advanced programs under way that are helping to drive innovation in transportation, including Tampa's Connected Vehicle Pilot Project, one of the nation's first tests of connected vehicle technology in personal vehicles on public roadways; SunTrax, the federally endorsed 2.25 mile proving ground for testing autonomous vehicles in real-world situations; and Jacksonville's program to turn the city's Skyway monorail into an autonomous transit system that can leave its tracks and take passengers onto city streets to their destination.

Florida also has conducted tests of truck platooning, which use automation to help tractor-trailers improve safety by enabling pairs of trucks to coordinate their speeds and maintain a safe, aerodynamic following distance.

Multiple public opinion surveys show that the transportation industry faces challenges when educating the public about these innovations. A recent survey by HNTB Corp. shows that only 52 percent of Americans are familiar with autonomous vehicle technology. However, among that 52 percent, 58 percent believe autonomous vehicles will be commonplace on America's roads within 10 years, and 57 percent of respondents said they are willing to ride in them. It's clear that the more the public learns about this new technology, the more we understand the benefits for safety, mobility and congestion relief.

In my previous role as the CEO of the Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce and through my ongoing position on the board of directors of the ITS World Congress, I've seen first-hand the meaningful impact these technologies can bring to transportation. It's vital that we continue to share these benefits with the public. In Florida, as transportation leaders continue to make headlines through their advancements in this technology, we can expect Florida residents to become more familiar with the economic and social benefits that lie ahead.

Beth Kigel is a vice president of HNTB Corporation in the firm's national ITS and Emerging Mobility Solutions practice. She is based in Florida. She can be reached at