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U.S. Department of Transportation Announces New Rural Autonomous Vehicle Research Program

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The first-of-its-kind Rural Autonomous Vehicle (RAV) Research Program will lay a foundation for bringing the potential benefits of automated vehicles to rural and Tribal communities across the U.S. 

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT or the Department) announced a $25 million funding opportunity for its Rural Autonomous Vehicle research program. Accredited universities are eligible to apply for this competitive, six-year cooperative agreement program. 

Recipients will use RAV program funding to conduct research regarding the benefits and responsible application of automated vehicles and associated mobility technologies in rural and Tribal communities. One $15 million award will focus on passenger transportation, and a separate $10 million award will focus on movement of freight to support and enable automated freight and delivery vehicles serving rural areas.

“Automated vehicles have the potential to enhance roadway safety and increase mobility options for all Americans, including older Americans, low-income households, people with disabilities, and those who cannot or choose not to drive,” said Dr. Robert C. Hampshire, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology and Chief Scientist. "Disparities in mobility and economic development opportunities in rural and Tribal communities leave many in those underserved communities unable to get to where they need to go to meet the needs of their daily life regularly, reliably, and safely; or to get necessary goods delivered. This research will move the needle forward,” Hampshire said.  

Nineteen percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, and almost a quarter of all Americans aged 65 and older reside in rural communities. Yet, 47% of all roadway fatalities and 34% of all public highway-rail grade crossing fatalities occur on rural roads. Emergency response times are more than twice as long in rural areas as compared to urban areas. 

The RAV program funds collaborative research and pilot deployment activities to support a future rural transportation system that is safe, advances American competitiveness, and supports good-paying jobs. The Department will empower workers and expand access to skills, training, and the choice of a union. They will have a seat at the table in shaping innovation. This funding opportunity devoted to rural and Tribal applications of automated vehicle technologies will help the Department advance mobility and safety solutions for the entire transportation sector, in a manner that serves U.S. DOT’s policy priorities as outlined in the Department’s Innovation Principles. In particular, the RAV program will allow for meaningful experimentation, and provide opportunities for collaboration, while encouraging better outcomes.

An informational webinar on the U.S. DOT Rural Autonomous Vehicle Program Funding Opportunity will be held in January 2024. 

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