It’s not a question of whether driverless cars will someday populate Colorado roads, it’s a question of when.
In fact, just last fall Budweiser, along with its autonomous vehicle partner Otto, completed the first successful driverless freight delivery in Colorado history. A shipment of beer went from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs without a driver. The Colorado Department of Transportation is partnering with Panasonic to develop vehicle-to-vehicle technology to prepare the Interstate 70 corridor for smarter and safer travel with driverless vehicles. Automakers across the industry are forecasting large-scale delivery of automated vehicles as soon as the next four years.
As development of this revolutionary technology nears a tipping point, it is more apparent than ever that Colorado must establish a policy framework to ensure our state can reap the social and economic benefits of driverless vehicle technology. That is why I am proud to introduce a bipartisan initiative that will allow Colorado to promote safety on the road and economic growth to our state by providing commonsense guidelines for this emerging industry.
This is an exciting industry with numerous benefits for Colorado and the nation. For instance, in 2016 more than 600 people were killed on Colorado roads and highways. Experts tell us driverless vehicle technology could potentially reduce traffic fatalities by up to 90 percent by simply eliminating human error. The yearly human toll of automobile accidents alone makes technology with this kind of promise absolutely worth pursuing. Avoiding traffic collisions also has the potential to save motorists untold millions by reducing insurance costs.
In addition to leaps in safety, automated vehicles also have the potential to tremendously increase the traffic efficiency on congested roadways like I-70 and I-25. Time-costing delays such as accidents, spectator slowing and poor route selection could all be alleviated by autonomous vehicles that intelligently interface with one another. Moreover, the elimination of human error in driverless vehicles could also allow autonomous cars to travel safely at higher rates of speed than currently permitted.
Imagine the freedom driverless cars can offer the elderly and people with disabilities. According to AARP, more than 45 million people in the U.S. are 65 or older, a figure expected to grow an additional 27 million by 2030. About 80 percent of them live in car-dependent suburbs or rural areas, not cities with public transit. For individuals whose independent living is closely tied to their ability to drive safely, self-driving tech is a blessing that can’t come soon enough.
The autonomous vehicle industry also holds the potential to be an economic boon for Colorado by generating new jobs associated with the testing and deployment of these new cars. As a leading state for technological research and innovation, Colorado is already well positioned to be a home for this burgeoning industry. By establishing a framework that ensures autonomous vehicles follow the rules of the road, we can show driverless vehicle firms that we value their investment and we are committed to maintaining our reputation as a hub for advanced technologies. This means more jobs, more tax revenue, and more opportunity for Coloradans across the economic spectrum.
The one thing we face with certainty is that driverless vehicles are becoming a reality on our roadways. It is imperative we implement common sense guidelines that promote safety, efficiency and show our country that we are prepared to be leaders in the autonomous vehicle industry. I hope my colleagues in the legislature will join us in support of our efforts to make this a reality.
Colorado State Sen. Owen Hill represents El Paso County. He is chairman of the Senate Education Committee and vice-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Reach him at email@example.com.