‘Everybody’s gonna be safe’ in self-driving car tests: Va. Gov. McAuliffe

WASHINGTON — The commute of the future will likely involve driverless cars, but Virginia roadways are being outfitted now for that eventuality.

“We’re gonna now do about 80 miles of roads that we’re going to put the sensors in,” said Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, referring to the 95 and 495 Express Lanes, which will be the setting for the testing of autonomous cars.

“All the roads we’re building now are gonna have the sensors for autonomous vehicles,” said McAuliffe. “This is the future.”

McAuliffe said 75 percent of the country’s testing of autonomous vehicles will take place in Virginia.

Initially, testing will take place on portions of the toll lanes that are closed to other vehicles.

“People are concerned,” acknowledged McAuliffe, on WTOP’s “Ask the Governor” show, Wednesday. “We’re not going to do anything that would affect security on the roads — no state would do that.”

McAuliffe recounted an opportunity he had last year to drive an autonomous Lexus, on I-64, in Richmond, near the governor’s mansion.

“I didn’t mean to do it, but it got up to 90 in 10 seconds,” said McAuliffe. “I got it down to the speed limit, and I put it on ‘autonomous’ — it drove, and I went 10 miles without touching anything.”

As WTOP first reported, after testing in closed 95 and 495 Express Lanes, eventually real-world testing will be done during “light traffic conditions.”

In addition to self-driving cars, the Federal Aviation Administration has designated Virginia Tech as a test site for unmanned aircraft systems, or drones.

McAuliffe said safety will not be sacrificed as the commonwealth attempts to be at the forefront of new technologies.

“It is taking it to the next level, it’s coming,” said McAuliffe. “I want Virginia leading the way, but I promise you, everybody’s gonna be safe.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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