All roads lead to self-driving cars

Self-driving cars have been so long on the horizon that some people may be surprised to see them popping up all over the county. Though research and testing on modern autonomous vehicles has been going on since the 1980s, seeing a car with no steering wheel in the adjacent lane on the highway could be a little jarring.

Self-driving car
Photo By Grendelkhan, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Across the nation, the infrastructure is being installed to make sure vehicles can stay connected to the systems that allow them to function without a driver. As up to 90 percent of traffic-related deaths and injuries are due to driver error, many are anxious to make the dream of driverless vehicles a reality. Most major automakers have announced plans to sell fully autonomous vehicles in the next five years.

Ohio Turnpike officials have announced plans to test self-driving cars on the road connecting Chicago to the East coast within 12 months. A 241-mile area of Interstate 80 in Ohio will be the initial testing ground. Fiber optic cable along the highway allows vehicles connected to a network to relay information and collect testing data.  The state highway department has plans to install more fiber optic cable and create an additional testing area on U.S. 33 near Columbus.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is also working on a fiber network for a 550-mile stretch of the toll road.  The agency touts the usefulness of the network for several applications, one of which could be self-driving cars. Through a public-private partnership (P3/PPP), plans call for a private company to build the broadband system and lease excess space on the system to other private companies. The arrangement would generate revenue that could be used to improve the roadway.

Also in the Keystone State, one ride-sharing company will launch a fleet of self-driving cars this month to chauffer customers around Pittsburgh. However, a human will have to be stationed at the controls throughout the testing phase.

Federal guidelines for autonomous cars on public roads are expected soon, but in the meantime many states have passed their own legislation. As early as 2012 New Jersey passed legislation to make the state a hub for development, testing and implementation of driverless vehicles. More recently, the Michigan Senate introduced a bill in May to make it legal for cars with no driver to operate on Michigan roads.

Although the rules for self-driving car are still being formed, construction of infrastructure to support the vehicles is well on its way. Lacking a critical setback, it seems as if the children of today may be the last generation to ever be required to learn how to drive a car.