Could autonomous cars solve the Tampa Bay area's transportation problem?

New law allows for self-driving cars on road

TAMPA, Fla. -
Everyone agrees that traffic in the Tampa Bay area is getting increasingly worse.
 
Not everyone agrees what to do about it.
 
Some want more public transportation, other want wider roads.
 
Another solution: smarter roads.
 
The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA) is putting together a "Connected Vehicles" project on Meridian Avenue in the Channelside District, and eventually on the Selmon Expressway, that would allow cars to talk to each other and the infrastructure.
 
Eventually, the technology could open the door to better driver-less cars.
 
"We'd like to play a role in that and do what we can to help move that technology forward," said Bob Frey of THEA to ABC Action News recently.
 
Thanks to a new bill recently signed by Gov. Rick Scott, the state could soon be closer to that reality.
 
The annual transportation budget bill includes specific language that allows for "autonomous vehicles" to be driven and tested on Florida roads, eliminating the requirement that a driver be present in a vehicle, as long as the autonomous vehicles meet applicable federal safety standards and regulations.
 
This change is expected to bring in millions, maybe billions, of dollars in federal money to encourage this technology development, and could lead to more jobs for Florida.
 
As of right now, the average person can't buy an autonomous vehicle, but they can ride one.
 
The only driver-less car available to the public anywhere in the United States is right here in Tampa: The Museum of Science and Industry has had an autonomous vehicle riding out front of their building since late last year, and an even newer model is scheduled to be available this fall, revealed a MOSI spokesperson on Monday.
 
Nearly 70,000 people have taken a ride on MOSI's self-driving car so far.
 
"The overwhelming attitude is surprisingly pleasantly underwhelmed," said Johnny Scotello, MOSI's director of exhibits. "People get on not knowing what to expect and get off thinking that's a great deal like an elevator. And in fact it really is, it goes back, right, left, and forward rather than up and down."
 
Scotello also points out the similarities do not end there.
 
"When elevators first came out there were laws saying there had to be an operator in the elevator which rather parallels what's going on in the legislation right now," Scotello tells ABC Action News.
 
It's true, legislation is currently very careful to say the autonomous vehicles are for the purpose of testing, for now.
 
Once the technology is more commonplace, it could transform the transportation industry, possibly creating nearly fatality-free roadways and creating a more efficient road system full of vehicles that talk to each other and never get distracted or tired or drunk.
 
The big question: Could it be the solution to the bay area's transportation problems?
 
Johnny Scotello of MOSI seems to think so.
 
"It's not the future, it's tomorrow. The technology is here. Major car manufacturers are working on it now," Scotello said.
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