WNPR

Northeast Planners Tackle Self-Driving Car Questions as Industry Gains Federal Support

Sep 20, 2016

Self-driving cars could change how communities are designed.

When town officials, planners, and business advocates from across the northeast talk about self-driving cars, one theme emerges: uncertainty.

"I think you still have to get over that fear, you still need to be in control. Maybe I just can't get over the control factor," said Beth Wallace of the Connecticut Economic Resource Center. She was at a workshop on self-driving cars at the recent Northeastern Economic Developers Association Conference in New Haven.

Wallace was talking about the nation's first self-driving car fatality, which occurred earlier this year when a car on autopilot drove into an 18-wheeler in Florida.

The Federal Department of Transportation recently announced new guidelines for self-driving cars. Those guidelines could help states like Connecticut regulate the new technology.

In New Haven, policymakers and developers gathered to talk about the future of transportation -- and in one workshop, what self-driving cars could mean for local towns.

New York project planner Susan Hopkins said during a presentation that self-driving cars could change how communities are designed.

"If you think of one of the biggest drivers of how we design projects, it’s parking," Hopkins said. "Where do we put cars when we’re not driving them? If you take that out of the equation, what does that do to the way that we’re designing downtowns or suburban shopping malls?”

Hopkins said towns should also consider the loss of revenue from speeding tickets and parking fines.

"If everyone’s in an autonomous vehicle, there won’t be any more speeding -- no more speeding tickets," Hopkins said.

Federal transportation officials said the surge of fatalities on the road is a major reason to back self-driving cars.

Last year, officials said there were about 35,000 motor vehicle-related deaths nationwide. In Connecticut, there were 283, a 14 percent increase from the previous year.