It was a busy week in the nascent era of autonomous vehicles.
9/14: Mayor Marty Walsh announced that the City of Boston was selected by the Swiss-based World Economic Forum as a focus city to participate in a 1-year study of autonomous vehicles in an urban environment. The City is now trying to coordinate with the state Department of Transportation and with the legislature to ensure state regulations keep up with the new technologies and to determine if at this point driverless cars are even allowed on the road. Mayor Walsh hopes to begin the study by the end of this year.
9/14: Uber began a test program in Pittsburgh where select riders are now allowed to order a car that will perform most driving tasks on its own, with an engineer ready to take over driving only if necessary.
9/19: An ambitious plan unveiled in Washington state seeks to ban human drivers from the carpool lane on a 150-mile section of I-5 between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada. Advocates there have been pressing for “driver-free zones” and hope to implement the ban within five years as the first step in an expansive plan to remove human drivers from the road.
9/20: The federal government expressed its endorsement of the new, driverless technologies and issued guidelines encouraging cooperation among the states to regulate issues such as licensing and insurance. The federal plan, however, retains strong oversight of the design and deployment of the driverless aspect of the vehicles, as well as the usual crashworthiness and other safety features.
Advocates of the new technologies anticipate that when autonomous vehicles are widely used, they could reduce crash related fatalities by 90%, saving almost 30,000 lives each year. The vehicles could also provide personal transportation to millions of Americans who, because of age or disability, cannot drive themselves. Additionally, they predict that autonomous vehicles will be able to move more people and goods faster than human drivers and on existing infrastructure, less expensively than high-speed rail.