Driverless cars in Georgia

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

With the upcoming state House study committee on driverless cars, we offer a discussion of what Georgia hopes to gain by preparing the way for autonomous vehicles. Today, the study committee leader writes about his belief in the new technology and what it could mean to people on a personal level, in terms of mobility. The Fayette County chairman also reveals what he’s doing at a local level. Our third column captures opinions that have skewered the projected impact of driverless cars, likening them to electric vehicles — serviceable, but not that popular.

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Driverless: the road ahead

By Trey Kelley

In today’s fast-paced world it can be hard to remember what we did yesterday, much less the way we lived 15 or 20 years ago. But for us as a society to fully recognize the potential for technology in the future it’s important for us to consider how far we have progressed.

The idea of autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars, has been around for over a decade. I recognize that to many the idea of a car that can transport you to your destination without requiring the driver to steer or control the speed of the vehicle may seem far off at best. But this technology is within our reach. I have become increasingly impressed by the benefits it could offer Georgia, and society as a whole.

Many of today’s luxury vehicles such as those from Cadillac, Volvo, or Mercedes now come with features that will automatically apply the brakes if they sense a crash. Some offer computerized parking, and even lane-maintenance features when traveling on highways. Many leading auto manufacturers invested in driverless technology expect full implementation to be within reach in 10 to 15 years. Google recently offered a concrete example of its viability when its fleet of approximately a dozen autonomous vehicles logged over 700,000 miles of accident-free driving.

The strides made by Google, as well as traditional auto manufacturers like Ford and GM, assure me that now is the time for Georgia to take a hard look at both the benefits and possible challenges that will arise as this technology comes to our roads. That is what led me to author HR1265 to establish the House Study Committee on Autonomous Vehicle Technology.

As Georgians, we know too well that changes must be made to our transportation network. Undoubtedly, investments need to be made in our infrastructure. But at a time of declining fuel tax revenue and increasing costs, we cannot rely on new roads as the solution to unclogging Georgia highways. In the Atlanta area alone, gridlock costs commuters almost $3 billion in time and fuel each year.

Autonomous vehicles address this problem with a two-fold approach. First, autonomous vehicles remove the human element which often results in car accidents, and the “rubber necking” that goes along with it. By removing the possibility of human error, thousands of hours of extended commute times will be eliminated. Second, even in times of heavy traffic, passengers in autonomous vehicles don’t lose their productivity. Imagine how much more tolerable an extended commute time would be if you were able to write your latest work report, or even catch a nap, without compromising the safety of yourself or others on the road.

Furthermore, by removing the human factor from transportation, many individuals who have lost their mobility due to an increasing age or disability will now be able to enjoy a renewed sense of independence. It is this feature which first attracted me to autonomous vehicles. I grew up with a grandmother that was blind and never had the opportunity to enjoy a ride in the car without someone driving her. One of the first released videos from Google highlighting their technology showed a driver running errands around town navigating the roads with ease. It was only at the end of the video that you saw the individual was in fact blind. This video spoke to me personally and helped me realize the advantages this technology could offer aging seniors and many individuals who otherwise would never enjoy the ability to transport themselves.

With any new technology there are new challenges. A top priority of mine and the House Study Committee will be to make sure this technology is implemented on Georgia roads in a safe and responsible way. No technology is ever fail-proof. We must put in place a system that is able to handle any liability issues that could arise, as well as make sure that any information regarding individual’s personal travel habits remain private.

There is no silver bullet to our state’s transportation woes, but taking autonomous vehicles and their benefits seriously is one step our state can make to prepare for the future growth. With our preparation, we will reassert our brand as the technological hub of the Southeast, bringing economic development opportunities and new high paying jobs to our state. Even though signs point to the implementation of this technology being at least ten years away, the time to prepare for tomorrow is certainly today.

Rep. Trey Kelley, R-Cedartown, is leading the House committee study on driverless cars.

Fayette looks to be a testing ground

By Steve Brown

Autonomous vehicles are an imminent disruptive force:these vehicles will change how we reason, act, transport ourselves and go about our daily lives. Just like many homes no longer have a hard-wired telephone, so too will your current driver-dependent car disappear.

Entities like Google are rapidly forcing autonomous vehicles into our lives. GM, Volkswagen, Ford, Nissan, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz are also testing self-driving technology. Additionally, you can buy a high-end luxury car offering radar systems that allow automatic cruise control, autonomous braking and assistance staying in driving lanes at the dealers today.

I have been researching this technology for years and I strongly suggest that Georgia get in front of this technological wave, evolving into a multi-billion dollar industry.

Currently only California, Nevada, Michigan and Florida allow autonomous vehicles on public roads.

The advantages of autonomous vehicles are enormous, causing accident rates to plunge to near zero, creating environmentally friendly transport and greatly reducing traffic congestion.

The new technology will a produce a significant capacity savings with our existing road infrastructure by permitting vehicles to stay amazingly close, greatly reducing the funding committed to road expansion, leaving more funding for future road and bridge maintenance.

Imagine your car insurance rates drastically declining because human error is removed from driving. Likewise, senior citizens and people with disabilities could reach their destinations without assistance.

An IHS Automotive study predicts by 2035, nearly 54 million autonomous vehicles will be in use worldwide and annual sales will reach almost 12 million units, adding that after 2050, nearly all of the vehicles in use — both personal and commercial — will be self-driving.

Google’s retrofitted, self-driving Toyota Priuses have logged hundreds of thousands of miles on California highways, but they now plan to manufacture a small number of fully autonomous vehicles — no steering wheel, no gas or brake pedal. California law will allow the low-speed operation of such vehicles on public roads by the end of 2014.

We must prod the normally sluggish pace of the state legislature and create some early adopter activity, attracting the technology companies, their high-tech jobs and their substantial research and development funding.

Metro Atlanta missed out on plenty of the early spoils from the Internet development revolution because we could not turn the transitional corner fast enough. We do not need a repeat with autonomous vehicle development.

It is heartbreaking to watch the Atlanta region fixate on the illusion of expanding costly heavy rail transit lines and creating ultra-expensive light rail lines with low single-digit ridership percentages and no discernible way to fund the gigantic bill for long-term operations and maintenance. Conversely, becoming the epicenter for autonomous vehicle technology provides an environmental benefit, enhanced safety and a significant savings in road capacity, considerably reducing traffic congestion.

Creating additional road capacity means ending expensive road expansions and having more available funding for future road maintenance without raising taxes.

Unfortunately, our region is heading backwards to the 1940’s, hoping that nostalgic budget-busting streetcars and commuter rails systems competing with the delivery of rail freight will have the masses running from suburbs into the dense urban areas.

The Fayette County Board of Commissioners might be the first and only county in the United States that has officially agreed to utilize the county road system as a pilot site for design, manned testing and regulatory research for autonomous vehicles, enabling industry leaders to field test their technology and giving federal and state transportation officials the ability to experiment with a regulatory framework in a live setting.

Hopefully, our state legislators will recognize the logical argument for pursuing what McKinsey’s Global Institute calls, “a potential revolution in ground transportation that could, if regulations allow, be well under way by 2025.” How about we reap the rewards of this technology first?

Fayette County makes an exceptional testing ground with the least amount of traffic congestion in the metro area, varied driving conditions and a well-educated population resembling the target market for the high-end entry point of driverless vehicles.

The county will need state approval to operate as a pilot site.

Nissan claims they could have autonomous vehicles on the market by 2018 except for the lack of government regulation for the new technology. We have an opportunity to be a market leader. Fayette County is excited to serve as a pilot site if given the opportunity by the state.

Steve Brown is chairman of the Fayette County Commission.

Consumers won’t want them

By Tom Sabulis

The idea of driverless cars, or “autonomous vehicles,” sounds far-fetched enough that many of us simply scoff at the likelihood of their implemention.

Then again, how many people, not that long ago, expected to be able to watch movies on their telephones? I still cannot imagine doing so, even though the technology is available. But it’s my choice not to. That’s what driverless cars will be, if in fact they become widely available: a choice.

Some observers say there are several good reasons to believe they will not be popular.

It’s just hype: As Dale Buss wrote in Forbes last month,“Could the accelerating race among auto companies and Silicon Valley types toward driverless automobiles turn out to be a lot like the breathless derby to produce all-electric cars that still preoccupies much of the industry even though, outside the “1 percent,” it’s pretty clear western consumers aren’t all that interested?”

Traffic accidents had been declining for years anyway: Buss writes that it’s “bogus” to believe driverless cars are needed to reduce auto accidents and fatalities. “The number of U.S. auto-crash fatalities was declining steadily for years until very recently, when distracted driving, thanks largely to texting, reared its ugly head. But surely there are less drastic solutions to that development than removing every American driver from behind the wheel.”

Too much participation would be needed to make a difference: Buss quotes Holman Jenkins, who recently argued in the Wall Street Journal, that ‘those who think the driverless car is just around the corner will be sorely disappointed. To revel in the future that the visionaries hold out, the obstacles are nearly insurmountable.’ His point, Buss writes, was that for anyone’s driverless system to be effective, every driver in America would have to be involved. And the legal, cultural and regulatory obstacles to such an outcome just won’t allow that to happen. It would also require expensive onboard systems and wireless networking that would escalate privacy concerns.

Devil’s in the fine print: Michelle Krebs, an analyst for AutoTrader.com, writes that “There are so many legal and insurance and regulatory issues, and none of them are being resolved. The challenges for law enforcement will be huge, as well.

Still, they could have some merit: Such cars, Krebs writes, ‘will not be driverless completely — they will be cars you have the choice to drive or not drive. There are certain places this approach makes sense, such as heavy commuting cities where autonomous cars could run essentially like train cars without a track — mass transit. That makes brilliant sense. Or these cars could be programmed to handle most responsibilities on long, boring drives, including commutes. In those ways, they will extend the mobility of aging baby boomers, which is where the biggest market is, if you believe that Millennials really don’t want to drive.’

Continued Krebs, ‘It’ll be basically like it is now with EVs and hybrids — most people still will be driving traditional cars.’


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