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Michigan aims to lead advancements in vehicle tech


Transportation experts say driverless cars are around the corner, and Michigan may be well-poised to benefit.

"We may be the last generation that owns cars."

That’s California-based sustainable transportation consultant Lauren Isaac.

"It’s kind of mindblowing," she says. "And even beyond that, our kids, our grandkids - they probably will not have to deal with speeding tickets, or worrying about drunk driving or looking around for parking." 

In a keynote speech given at Friday's Transportation and Mobility Summit in Grand Rapids, Isaac says changes in technology and society are amenable to this driverless reality.

"It all hinges on the fact that we will have more of a sharing society – so more car sharing like carpooling or van-pooling, and more vehicle sharing," she says. "And that’s something that the technology offers us, we’re already seeing it today. But with driverless technology, it’s even more further enabled." 

Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, says it’s also about safety.

"What this does is potentially eliminates 80 percent of the crashes, and 80 percent of the fatalities," he says. "So last year we had just over 900 fatalities on Michigan roads. If you eliminate 80 percent of that, that’s 700 people that are still here today." 

Steudle says the state plays an active role in these cars – and roads – of the future. And Michigan’s automotive background, companies and presence give the state a unique edge.

"Frankly, we have an advantage - we’ve got some big heavyweights right here in Michigan," he says. "And that’s what we’re trying to do: play into our strength."

Steudle says that helps make multiple initiatives possible – such as Southeast Michigan’s MCity, a 32-acre testing ground for connected and driverless vehicles.

And he adds transportation technology is not just about cars.

The department is also focused on ideas that tackle weather responsiveness, traffic patterns and other needs.

Hilary is a General Assignment and Enterprise reporter for WGVU Public Media. She joined WGVU in September 2014 after several years of experience as a local news reporter, anchor and photojournalist in Midland, Saginaw and Bay counties. She's also worked as a financial and business reporter and audio field producer.
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