U.S. Department of Transportation Invests $25 Million in Rural Autonomous Vehicle Research Program

In a groundbreaking move, the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) has announced a $25 million funding opportunity for the Rural Autonomous Vehicle (RAV) Research Program. This initiative, the first of its kind, is designed to unlock the potential benefits of automated vehicles for rural and Tribal communities across the United States.

Accredited universities are invited to participate in this competitive six-year cooperative agreement program. The funding will be divided into two substantial awards: a $15 million grant for passenger transportation research and an additional $10 million dedicated to advancing the movement of freight in rural areas.

Dr. Robert C. Hampshire, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology and Chief Scientist, highlighted the potential impact of automated vehicles on roadway safety and increased mobility options for various demographics, including older Americans, low-income households, people with disabilities, and those who cannot or choose not to drive.

The move comes in response to disparities in mobility and economic development opportunities in rural and Tribal communities, where many residents face challenges in meeting their daily needs due to inadequate transportation options.

According to U.S. DOT data, 19% of the U.S. population resides in rural areas, with almost a quarter of Americans aged 65 and older living in these communities. However, rural roads account for 47% of all roadway fatalities and 34% of public highway-rail grade crossing fatalities.

Emergency response times in rural areas are also more than twice as long as those in urban areas, indicating a critical need for innovative solutions. The RAV program aims to address these challenges by funding collaborative research and pilot deployment activities.

The ultimate goal of the RAV Research Program is to enhance the movement of goods and people in rural and Tribal communities by harnessing the potential benefits of automated vehicles. The focus is on surface vehicles, considering the unique challenges such as differing types and conditions of roadways, unexpected obstructions, lighting limitations, and under-resourced emergency services.

This initiative aligns with U.S. DOT’s policy priorities and innovation principles. By concentrating on rural and Tribal applications of automated vehicle technologies, the program aims to propel mobility and safety solutions and foster collaboration and experimentation for better outcomes.

In January 2024, an informational webinar on the U.S. DOT Rural Autonomous Vehicle Research Program Funding Opportunity will be held, providing further insights into this pioneering initiative.

For more information on the U.S. DOT Rural Autonomous Vehicle Program, visit here.