Most cars on Wisconsin roads will be driverless two decades from now, a University of Wisconsin researcher says.
"They're coming, whether we like it or not," engineering professor David Noyce said at an Assembly committee hearing on the future of autonomous cars Wednesday.
Driverless cars can make driving safer, cut traffic, reduce emissions and give more people the ability to get around, according to Noyce and others who testified. But many challenges remain: bad weather and hackers can throw off the technology, the cars are pricey and they raise new legal questions, such as who is liable when something goes wrong.
Last month, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory was one of 10 groups nationwide the federal government designated to test the vehicles. But Wisconsin still trails other states in preparing for the transition, Noyce said.
Uber, General Motors and companies developing the technology are jockeying to get a say in how the state sets its groundwork. Both Uber and GM plan to run ride-sharing networks of driverless cars.
Critics say a law passed last year in Michigan at GM's urging intentionally boxes out GM's competitors in the state. But GM lobbyist Brian O'Connell, who testified at the committee hearing, called Michigan's law the "gold standard."
Legislatures in 11 states and Washington D.C. have already passed laws related to driverless cars. The governors of two other states have signed executive orders for driverless car testing.
Noyce said driverless cars remove the risk of driver distraction or error, which he said account for more than 90 percent of traffic deaths. Driverless cars could also open up space for businesses and developments by reducing the need for urban parking structures, said Peter Rafferty, manager of UW-Madison's traffic lab.
"If your vehicle is dropping you off, it doesn't have to park right next to your destination," Rafferty said.