Despite routine talk that driverless cars are the future, so far there has been no effort to bring them to New York.
Google, Tesla and other manufacturers are focused on building cars that can navigate roads without humans behind the wheel. Time magazine last week had a cover story about the benefits of people giving up their right to drive.
“I read about it all the time, and I’ve never heard even a whisper about bringing it to New York for any purpose,” said Don Metzner, president and CEO of Armory Garage, an Albany-based automotive dealership. “It’s an interesting theory.”
Story after story in the media depicts a future where cars take you to your destination and then go park themselves. The cars would reduce traffic, decrease accidents and reduce the need for parking spaces, proponents argue.
California, Nevada, Florida, Michigan and Tennessee have passed legislation governing self-driving vehicles, as has Washington, D.C.
“I think the broadest answer is it’s early days yet,” he said. “Google, Tesla and Ford are still prototyping and getting the kinks out.”
Google is located in California’s Silicon Valley, he noted, so it makes sense for the company to test drive its cars there. In addition, the weather there is easier for early testing than New York’s sometimes slick or snowy roads.
But he added Michigan is on the list thanks to Ford, which is trying to test out the vehicles in snowy conditions where you can’t see the road surface or the lane markings that autonomous cars use to guide themselves.
A Google spokesman said the company typically does not discuss its future plans, but it has been testing the cars in snowier California climes. Google has logged mileage on its cars in only three states — California, Texas and Washington — so New York is hardly alone in not seeing them yet. Messages to Tesla and Ford were not returned.
Before self-driving cars could be on New York’s roads, state motor vehicle law would have to change.
The law now says: “No person shall operate a motor vehicle without having at least one hand or, in the case of a physically handicapped person, at least one prosthetic device or aid on the steering mechanism at all times when the motor vehicle is in motion.”
Assemblyman Phil Steck, who serves on the Transportation Committee, said the subject has never come up. There has been no lobbying by car manufacturers to allow them, and no suggested legislation to come to the committee, the Colonie Democrat said.
“Obviously it’s going to be an issue that is going to have to be studied very, very carefully,” he said. “We all use technology, and technology does sometimes go wrong.”
But Steck said while there has been a push to allow Uber and other ride-hailing services in the state, there has yet to be any discussion of self-driving vehicles.
“It’s funny too because California and New York are parallel in a lot of ways,” he said. “They are both highly regulated states. The governments are not that dissimilar.”
California does have a far worse problem with pollution, he said, which may increase the appeal of driverless cars there.
The state Senate too has never heard from makers of the autonomous vehicles.
“There hasn’t been anything yet regarding driverless cars,” said Steve Barz, communications director for State Sen. Joseph Robach, R-Rochester, chairman of the Transportation Committee. “They’re probably waiting to look at the viability.”
Berg said he couldn’t hazard a guess when the first New York driver might get to ride in a self-driving car within the state.
“I suspect certainly within a generation, we’ll see them being a significant player on our roadways,” he said.
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