Area towns and cities wary of testing self-driving cars

Area towns and cities wary of testing self-driving cars

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Towns and cities are considering a state request for four municipalities willing to join a self-driving car testing program.

The state’s fully autonomous vehicle testing pilot program was created by a law passed by the General Assembly last year. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who signed the law, said in a statement that “autonomous vehicles are going to be part of our lives soon and we want to take proactive steps to have our state be at the forefront of this innovative technology.”

Vehicles would be allowed in “limited and controlled” testing areas. Four municipalities will be selected for the program.

The municipality would sign an agreement with a company testing autonomous vehicles and partner with the company in running the tests and choosing testing areas.

After consideration, Southington public works committee members concluded that there was no benefit to the town.

John Barry, a town councilor and committee chairman, said vice chairwoman Dawn Miceli and others didn’t want to introduce the risk of autonomous cars to Southington.

“Neither of us felt there was any compelling reasons that we should put Southington residents at risk for a new type of technology that so far has been (responsible for) actual deaths,” Barry said.

He cited the death of a pedestrian in Arizona in March after she was struck by a self-driving car, one of Uber Technologies Inc.’s self-driving vehicles. In April, the driver of a semi-autonomous Tesla Model X died in an accident in California. 

Town roads can be congested and Southington has a host of walkers, bikers and children who use roads and trails.

Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said he wasn’t aware of the state program but had concerns about liability for damage or injury caused by self-driving cars.

“That’s a serious issue,” Dickinson said.

Meriden Public Works Director Bob Bass, who had heard about the program, said the city hadn’t seriously considered it yet.

The state Office of Policy and Management is overseeing the program along with the state Department of Transportation and other agencies. According to OPM, Connecticut has “challenges and opportunities for fully autonomous vehicles such as old and new roads, traffic congestion and various modes of transportation.”

The application includes questions on how the municipality would train police and first aid workers to respond to self-driving car crashes, how the public would be educated about the presence of autonomous vehicles on the road and how the town or city would safely oversee the testing.

Those testing the vehicles must be able to take “immediate manual control” of the self-driving car.

Twitter: @JBuchananRJ

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