Self-driving cars given green light on Virginia motorways

The state of Virginia has announced that it is making 70 miles of motorway available for the testing of self-driving vehicles.

The “Virginia Automated Corridors” will be located in the northern part of the state and will be managed by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI).

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Before cars are allowed to use the motorway, they will first have to complete a series of trials at the institute’s Smart Road in Montgomery County and the Virginia International Raceway in Halifax County to ensure the technology is not a danger to other road users.

Myra Blanco, director of the VTTI’s Center for Automated Vehicle Systems told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the state’s decision will foster technological growth in the area.

“Other states are saying you need to prove that independently you can do all this testing. What we are trying to do is show them how to do the testing and how to facilitate the process as well,” she said. “I think this is going to help us advance the technology and even more important, to attract companies and satellite offices in the Northern Virginia area to develop these new concepts.”

Ms Blanco added that she expects automated cars to be on Virginia roads within 12 months, but explained that vehicles would still need to have a driver present, should any of the on-board systems fail.

So far, there are no confirmed manufacturers signed up to the initiative, but VTTI is likely to have no shortage of interested parties, with a number of firms developing self-driving vehicles. Google’s automated car has already racked up almost 2 million miles, while the likes of Elon Musk’s Tesla, BMW and Audi are all developing self-driving vehicles of their own.

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In preparation for the arrival of automated vehicles, the Virginia Department of Transportation and Department of Motor Vehicles will be making sure motorways are in the best condition to be recognised by the car’s sensors. The state is also adding smart features to sections of the motorway to alert vehicles of oncoming traffic or emergency vehicles.