Jeff Farrah: Why I’m Excited to Lead the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association

By Jeff Farrah

I am thrilled to lead the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association (AVIA) as its inaugural Executive Director. Autonomous vehicles (AV) will make our world safer, more efficient, and provide life-changing mobility benefits to those who are disadvantaged. For these positive impacts to occur, the AV industry, stakeholders, and policymakers must partner to ensure the policy landscape promotes AV deployment. I am looking forward to leveraging my experience working at the intersection of emerging technology and public policy to ensure the promise of AVs is realized.

For me, the need for AVs is a personal one and is what has driven me to lead AVIA. When I imagine the future AVs can bring, I think of my 92-year-old grandmother, who has lost independence as she has grown older and is not able to drive as she did earlier in life. It is hard for many of us to watch as our loved ones lose self-sufficiency. Just imagine the benefit AVs would provide to my grandmother and millions of Americans like her who will regain the ability to move around as they desire.

When I think of the promise of AVs, I also think of my sister who is a high school teacher in a rural area and has tragically lost students to fatal car crashes on dangerous two-lane highways. Sadly, these crashes were the result of drunk or distracted driving. These losses of young people in the United States are unacceptable and I want to see a world where AVs safely transport us all to our destinations. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that more than 42,000 people died on American roads last year. This is a 16-year high and an 11% increase in fatalities from 2020. Frustratingly, NHTSA attributes the overwhelming majority of motor vehicle crashes to human error.  As a country, we must do better, and AVs are an integral part of safer roads in our country. After all, AVs never drive drunk, do not get distracted, and do not speed.

I also think of a dear friend of mine who is blind and how liberating AVs would be to her. I have seen firsthand how technology has unleashed incredible opportunities for the vision-impaired, and as a result my friend lives a life far more independent than she did just a decade ago. But she still has mobility challenges that need to be addressed, and deployment of AVs will be a gigantic leap forward for individuals who are not able to drive vehicles on their own and deserve to have the same opportunities as everyone else.

These kinds of opportunities are all possible because of the individuals at AV companies who are not willing to accept the status quo and are pushing the boundaries of what is possible. For instance, autonomous trucks and zero-occupancy delivery vehicles will transform how goods move from point A to B while improving our supply chain resiliency and creating new jobs. The AV industry has an inspiring mix of audacious entrepreneurs who founded new companies to address problems, and established companies with experience scaling products and services to deliver benefits to the American public. This is a winning combination for ensuring the AV industry keeps pressing forward and succeeds in its mission.

But our industry cannot do this work alone. We need policymakers at the federal, state, and local level to understand what AVs will mean for safety, mobility, and efficiency, and to serve as champions for the communities who will realize the benefit of AVs. AVs must be part of a comprehensive safety approach to roadway safety. Ultimately, Americans need a national framework for the safe and swift deployment of AVs that enhances public trust in safety while maximizing deployment and maintaining clear federal and state roles. AVIA has done a tremendous job building partnerships with policymakers, and now is the time to redouble our efforts. 

The awe-inspiring innovation we are seeing from AV companies comes at a critical time in our country. Policymakers understand the United States is in a global struggle to be the world’s technology leader. The Chinese government, for example, is investing heavily in AV development as part of its strategy to overtake and replace foreign market leaders. These policymakers see other countries supporting their own innovation ecosystems and working to challenge historical U.S. leadership. As a result, there is a yearning from policymakers at every level of government for our country to ‘do big things’ and tackle massive societal problems through technology. The AV industry is ready to answer this call and show how AVs are a force for good and can make our world safer, more efficient, and provide new opportunities for those who are disadvantaged.

I am proud to be part of the AV industry and look forward to helping to write the most exciting chapter yet for the industry and, most importantly, our country.