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MDOT Director says transition to autonomous vehicles could be “messy” but will save lives

Traffic lights
Thomas Hawk
Traffic lights that communicate with vehicles could prevent accidents, according to the director of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Michigan is competing with other states to become a leader in the nation when it comes to autonomous cars. Google is opening a development center in Novi. The University of Michigan has M-City, the Mobility Transformation Center.

And the governor recently signed laws to make Michigan more friendly to the development of driverless cars.

Kirk Steudle is the Director of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). He said that these recent developments have established the state as a leader in the transition to autonomous vehicles.

“I think the future is Silicon Valley and Detroit,” he told us. “As far as I’m concerned, I think that’s a great comparison, and I think we’re on a path really to great things here.”

That path could be a long one, as infrastructure is upgraded and consumers replace their old vehicles with the latest models. Steudle said it could take two decades before driverless technology is prevalent.

“We’re gonna be in probably a 20-year, messy transition, where we have really intelligent cars that probably operate the best of any on the roadway, then we’re going to have a bunch of dumb cars with very inconsiderate and dumb drivers,” he said. “That mix is going to be here for a while.”

Nonetheless, the transition may be worth the trouble. Steudle cited a study performed with autonomous cars in Ann Arbor that found an 80% decrease in traffic fatalities when human drivers are replaced by computers. In Michigan, that would have saved about 800 lives in 2016 alone.

Steudle also noted that new types of “smart” infrastructure that can communicate directly with vehicles are already being installed throughout the state. He named an upgrade to US-23 planned for this summer as one example. Listen to our full interview with Kirk Steudle, director of MDOT, above.

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