How Do First Responders Handle Increasing Vehicle Automation?

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August 31, 2021

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New GHSA report recommends training for law enforcement, other first responders, crash investigators as automated vehicle technology becomes more commonplace

WASHINGTON, D.C. – When a motor vehicle crash occurs, first responders bravely jump into action, extricating vehicle occupants, administering lifesaving first aid, directing traffic, investigating the cause, clearing the scene and much more. But the police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and public safety responders that crash victims rely on face new and unique hazards as more vehicles that have vehicle automation and driver assistance features take to U.S. roads.

Today, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a new report that examines how law enforcement officials and other first responders as well as crash scene investigators can better prepare for automated vehicle technology by highlighting curriculum recommendations to improve training on rapidly changing safety protocols. The report – Law Enforcement, First Responder and Crash Investigation Preparation for Automated Vehicle Technology – was produced by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) and made possible by a grant from State Farm®.

The findings of this new report will be discussed in detail at the GHSA 2021 Annual Meeting in Denver next month, the first in-person national traffic safety conference since early 2020. During a general session panel discussion that will be webcast on Monday afternoon, September 13, experts from VTTI, Waymo, Cruise, Aurora and the California Highway Patrol will discuss how law enforcement and other first responders can prepare. You can register to watch the panel discussion here. More information about that session and the Annual Meeting can be found on the GHSA website.

“The rise of automated vehicle technology creates new opportunities to prevent crashes and accelerate efforts to reach our goal of zero roadway deaths, but this technology also poses new problems for public safety officials,” said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. “GHSA remains focused on helping State Highway Safety Offices and our law enforcement partners be ready for widespread deployment of vehicles with these technologies, so everyone stays safe regardless of who is, or isn’t, driving.”

The increasing presence of an array of vehicles with varying levels of automation and driver assistance technologies creates key questions for law enforcement, first responders and the traffic safety community, such as:

  • How do first responders disable, move or stabilize such a vehicle that has been involved in a crash or abandoned?
  • How do responders who might need to cut through a vehicle to remove an occupant after a crash do so safely without putting themselves or the occupant in danger?
  • How do responders know that such vehicles can detect emergency vehicles or first responders directing traffic at the scene of a crash and take action to avoid hitting them?
  • How do responders determine ownership of such vehicles? How is responsibility assigned at an incident or when conducting a traffic stop?

To help first responders better prepare for these increasingly common scenarios, the report addresses the current and projected state of automated vehicle technologies. It also incorporates discussions with government administrators, first responders, law enforcement organizations, automakers, crash reconstruction experts and insurance and safety advocates to identify where training is most needed. Researchers used this information to design a curriculum development strategy for training law enforcement and other first responders and crash investigators tasked with responding to these motor vehicle crashes and incidents.

The recommended curriculum topics include:

  • Understanding the differences between and capabilities of vehicles with different technologies
  • Identifying vehicles with automation technologies on the road today
  • Understanding governmental responsibilities regarding vehicle oversight
  • Anticipating future technology deployment
  • Interacting with such vehicles
  • Understanding and accessing data

“Vehicles with advanced safety features are becoming increasingly more common on the road,” said Laurel K. Straub, Assistant Vice President – Enterprise Research, State Farm. “This is creating a need for first responders to understand the ever-changing technologies, better equipping them to serve their communities. This research aligns with our ongoing commitment to roadway safety for all road users.”

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About GHSA

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) is a nonprofit association representing the highway safety offices of states, territories, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. GHSA provides leadership and representation for the states and territories to improve traffic safety, influence national policy, enhance program management and promote best practices. Its members are appointed by their Governors to administer federal and state highway safety funds and implement state highway safety plans. Visit for more information or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

About State Farm®

The mission of State Farm is to help people manage the risks of everyday life, recover from the unexpected, and realize their dreams. State Farm and its affiliates are the largest providers of auto and home insurance in the United States. Its 19,300 agents and nearly 55,000 employees serve approximately 86 million policies and accounts – which includes auto, fire, life, health, commercial policies and financial services accounts. Commercial auto insurance, along with coverage for renters, business owners, boats and motorcycles, is available. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company is the parent of the State Farm family of companies. State Farm is ranked No. 39 on the 2021 Fortune 500 list of largest companies. For more information, please visit