The Hill: Self-driving cars are the next frontier of innovation and safety

Forget about “The Jetsons.” The future of the automobile is here and the automotive industry is completely revolutionizing how we will get around for decades to come. Thanks to the 75th Washington Auto Show, which closed on Sunday, consumers have had the opportunity to see new technological leaps and bounds from automakers that are making today’s vehicles bolder, more fuel-efficient, interconnected, and, in some cases, able to drive themselves. It's an exciting time for automakers, innovators, and consumers alike. Our home state of Michigan is leading the way in developing, testing and deploying the cars and trucks of the future.

As the birthplace of the automotive industry, Michigan is a well-known home to innovative suppliers and manufacturers that make our cars and trucks safer, more efficient and more affordable. But Michigan also has a dense nexus of engineering talent, automotive research and development centers, and universities that are developing cutting-edge vehicle innovations.

The American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti—a world-class, collaborative testing facility—was recently designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation as a national proving ground for connected and automated vehicle technology. This 330 acre testing center will be built on the site of the former Willow Run Powertrain plant—known for building the B-24 bomber during World War II—and will bring together government, academia and industry to test new technologies in real-world conditions, including Michigan’s four seasons of weather that bring snow and ice.

Along with the nine other sites designated by DOT, the American Center for Mobility keeps the United States at the forefront of this globally competitive new frontier in innovation.

These technologies also have the potential to stop accidents before they happen. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 35,000 Americans died in traffic accidents last year—a seven percent increase in fatalities on our roadways from the previous year. NHTSA also found that 94 percent of roadway fatalities are tied to human error. Connected and automated vehicle technologies have tremendous potential to cut congestion, strengthen our economy, increase consumer access, and save thousands of lives.

As automakers and developers test and validate these technologies to get them ready for our roads, government must work to ensure that federal policies are keeping pace with the exponential advances in innovation. The rapid emergence of crash avoidance and driver assistance tools available to consumers today are the building blocks that will lead to fully autonomous vehicles in the next few years. Last fall, NHTSA released the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy to guide the development of automated driving technologies, and educate and prepare consumers for full-scale deployment. This guidance offers a strong framework to ensure these lifesaving technologies are safe and secure. Moving forward, Congress must continue to build on these efforts to encourage further innovation and development of self-driving vehicles, and ensure consumers are informed about their capabilities.

The future of mobility is bright, and the Washington Auto Show offered consumers and policymakers a firsthand look at these pioneering technologies. The federal government will play a critical role in bringing together stakeholders to ensure these lifesaving and transformative technologies reach their full promise. We look forward to continuing the valuable public discussion on the safety improvements and revolutionary changes self-driving vehicles are bringing to our society.

United States Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan is a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Rep. Fred Upton represents Michigan’s 6th District and serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Source: The Hill