First responders prep for future of self-driving vehicles in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — As Jacksonville looks toward the future and autonomous vehicles, first responders are making sure they’re ready to keep people safe.

On Thursday, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority hosted the first of several training events with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and Jacksonville Fire Rescue Department.

“They need to be part of this journey in terms of the development of the U2C, the autonomous vehicle program here in Jacksonville,” JTA CEO Nat Ford said.



Crews were trained on autonomous prototypes, also used in Europe. These are the same vehicles JTA is using to create its own design. Right now, Ford said, they are still in the design process and want input on safety features from first responders.

“We have to start early with this because this technology is in the stages of development,” Ford said. “As we’re developing it and as we’re looking the manufactures and determining what vehicle is the best vehicles for our program, we want to make sure our firefighters as well as they police department, they have input in terms of vehicle design.”

The CEO of BEEP, Inc., Joe Moye, said crews would learn about the equipment, interior and exterior design, as well as how to drive the vehicle in case of an emergency.

“Start and stop buttons, important equipment and how you access the vehicle,” Moye said. “How would you enter the vehicle if for whatever reason the doors wouldn’t open.”

“We’re excited about the new technology, but we also have to know the ins and outs and the potential challenges we may face if we respond to one of these vehicles, whether it be the vehicle is on fire or an accident of some sort,” JFRD Battalion Chief Sean Hatchett said.

JTA said it will be approximately three years before it can deploy these self-driving vehicles. The authority said when it does, it will be the first public transportation system in the country to put autonomous vehicles on the road.

“We’ve got work to do,” Ford said. “It’s a three-year process. First step will be dedicated lanes. But on this journey, ultimately you’re talking about full autonomy of vehicles operating on our streets.”

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