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Connecticut, are you ready for Autonomous Vehicles?

Quietly, at the national level, there are discussions taking place that may affect the vehicle that pulls up next to you at a stop light in just a couple of years.  As a Connecticut driver, are you ready to glance over at a driverless car next to you?

How will you feel?  Excited?  Nervous?  Dumbfounded?  It’s just my guess, but ‘safer’ is not likely to be one of your first thoughts.

Yet, safety is at the core of why some of our national politicians are pushing for legislation to legalize and regulate driverless, autonomous vehicles on American roads.

According to David Shepardson via Reuters, the U.S. Senate is looking for ways to get a self-driving car bill out of committee gridlock and to the floor for a vote something this year.

Senator John Thune, Chair of the Commerce Committee, has been quoted as saying that government findings show that 94% of car accidents are caused by human error.  Thus, he calculates, “we could save a lot of lives. It is cutting edge technology”.   The proposed Senate bill would allow, within three years, each auto manufacturer to sell up to 80,000 self-driving vehicles annually – provided they can demonstrate to government regulators that they are as safe as current vehicles.

General Motors CEO, Mary Barra, introduces the fully Autonomous Chevy Bolt EV built in conjunction with Cruise Automation

That proposed language seems a bit open ended.  But the New York Times reports that General Motors could have driverless cars – without steering wheels or pedals – on the road within the next year.  On Friday, January 12, 2018, General Motors submitted a petition to the United States Department of Transportation to begin operating fully autonomous cars – without steering wheel or pedals – in a commercial ride-hailing service next year.  Are you ready to jump into a driverless car on city streets?

This modern interior is devoid of previously indispensable items such as a steering wheel, accelerator pedal or brake pedal Hello Siri, please take me to ……

I am all for technological progress, but personally, I’d prefer to continue mingling my own driving skills with those of other fellow humans.  I also like to maintain responsibility for my own safety and well-being!  After many years and hundreds of thousands of miles driving, I have faith in my own ability to react to emergency situations and ever changing road conditions.  However, I feel a bit less prepared to react when confronted with a vehicle being operated via the programming instructions of some software engineer at Google or Apple.  In that split second of reaction time, will I have time to pause and answer the question “What would Google do?”.

But alas, progress marches on and we are very likely to see fully autonomous vehicles operating on our roads in the not too distant future.  Thinking ahead to that day, I would strongly encourage our leaders who can shape such things to consider starting with limited access experiments – such as using the current HOV lane on I91 near Hartford – as a way to test these vehicles in the real world before they are unleashed on Main Street, USA.

For me, I’ll keep my hands on the steering wheel, thank you!