The driverless car—or autonomous vehicle—may have once seemed like a far-off fantasy. However, the technology needed to make them a mainstream reality is being steadily developed and tested globally, including right in the backyards of Washtenaw County residents.
Autonomous vehicle testing in Michigan is growing, and Washtenaw County is playing an integral role. In 2015, the Mcity Test Facility was opened on U-M’s North Campus, a partnership between the Michigan Department of Transportation and University of Michigan, for autonomous vehicle testing. Governor Rick Snyder announced earlier this year that the State plans to buy the former Willow Run Powertrain plant in Ypsilanti Township to create an autonomous vehicle research facility. This is good news for the Washtenaw County area in terms of job growth in the automotive and technology sectors and potential federal funding for research into autonomous vehicle testing in Michigan.
While this new chapter in automotive history is very exciting, many people have questions about autonomous vehicles both from a local community perspective and about the technology itself. To help you understand more about how autonomous driving may impact you, here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about autonomous vehicles and testing of them in Michigan:
Which states allow driverless cars to operate on public roads?
Michigan, California, Nevada and Florida have passed legislation to allow driverless cars to be tested on their roads.
Will cars be allowed to drive completely on their own?
No—or at least, not yet. While companies like Google are testing autonomous vehicles with no drivers in them, it’s unlikely that at least the first few waves of autonomous cars on the mass market would be completely unmanned. The first autonomous driving systems, which are able to control steering, braking, and accelerating, are already starting to appear in cars—but don’t worry, these cars won’t be out on the road alone. It’s required that a human actually be in the car in case of an emergency.
Are autonomous cars really safer?
Research shows that, yes, autonomous vehicles are safer. Data published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that partly autonomous features are already helping to reduce crashes. For example, cars with forward collision warning systems, which either warn the driver about an impending crash or apply the brakes automatically, are involved in far fewer crashes than cars without them. Also, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than 90 percent of road crashes involve human error, a figure that has led some experts to predict that autonomous driving will reduce the number of accidents on the road by a similar percentage.
What role will Washtenaw County play in the expansion of autonomous vehicle testing? The plan for the Willow Run facility builds on Michigan’s emerging role as an epicenter for autonomous vehicle testing. Last year, Mcity—a prototype cityscape—was built at the University of Michigan to test connected and automated vehicles, as well as other emerging transportation technologies. According to Edmunds, the 32-acre facility is located on the university’s North Campus and includes “a network of roads with intersections, roundabouts, traffic signs and signals, and sidewalks. Simulated buildings, parked cars, pedestrians and other obstacles will challenge the capabilities of various automated vehicle systems.”
So, it’s likely that over time we will see more projects like these in the United States, giving Michigan the opportunity to build on its leadership role in autonomous vehicle testing.
Will autonomous vehicles need to be insured?
While it’s too early in the evolution of autonomous vehicle technology to know the exact details of insuring driverless cars, it’s likely that the vehicle will need to be insured to protect it as a physical asset. The owner will also need to have significant liability insurance in case of an accident or harm caused by their vehicle.
Autonomous vehicles are still in the early stages of research and development, which means it will probably be several decades before completely driverless cars are the norm on roads across America. However, given the important role of autonomous vehicle testing in Michigan—and particularly in our own Washtenaw County, it’s certainly an area of growth and progress that is worth watching!
Hallie Earl, of Marcellus, works out of our Cassopolis, MI location in our personal lines customer service department. Hallie enjoys playing house, dress-up, and dancing with her almost 5-year-old who is extremely active & girly (which is quite opposite of her mom). Hallie is a graduate of Marcellus High School, is an avid U of M fan and enjoys shopping, sports, gardening, and just relaxing in her spare time.
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