“The Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca is a 2.2-mile asphalt roller coaster plunging and soaring across California’s tawny Monterey highlands. The most famous section, the Corkscrew, requires drivers storming up a long hill to slam the brakes and take a hard left into what seems to be thin air. The car goes momentarily weightless, and when the track materializes beneath you—always a pleasant surprise—it’s going downhill like a ski jump—and, oh yeah, heading hard right.”
So begins Dan Neil’s account of riding in the passenger seat of a BMW TrackTrainer while the car itself did the driving. His experience, he writes in the Wall Street Journal, has persuaded him that robo-cars have passed the point where they are merely competent to ride on America’s roads. They are, or soon will be, superior to most American drivers.
“By the time this technology is commercialized, robotically operated cars will be safer, probably a lot safer, than manually operated cars,” he writes. “Autopilots will never get distracted, sleepy, lost, angry. Their reactions will be instantaneous.”
What will drive the adoption of robo-cars? The $300 billion a year lost to traffic accidents (death, disability, health care, property loss) and $100 billion lost to congestion. Not only will driverless cars be safer but by allowing cars to drive faster and at shorter distances behind one another, they will increase the carrying capacity of existing roads.
I ask again: What is the Virginia Department of Transportation doing to prepare for the coming of driverless vehicles?
Questions: First, can we agree that robo-cars are good thing, or are there hidden concerns we need to address? Second, what legislation affecting speed limits and driver safety restrictions must be enacted to permit these marvels to use Virginia roads? Third, what must we do to adapt existing roads and highways to accommodate these vehicles? And fourth, should we be investing in “smart roads” as an alternative to laying more concrete and asphalt?
The time to start asking these questions is now — not after every other state in the union has already figured out the answers.
Update: California has just legalized the use and testing of driverless cars, joining Nevada. Arizona, Florida, Hawaii and Oklahoma are considering similar laws. Where’s Virginia?