Self-Driving Cars to Be Tested on Virginia’s Highways

Sun, 7/8/2018 - 10:51 pm by Kirsten Rincon

The number of states allowing driverless cars to be operated on its public roads just keeps growing. So far, automakers and tech companies have been allowed to test their autonomous driving technology in California, Nevada, Michigan, Florida and Washington, D.C., which are now joined by Virginia, with state authorities announcing that they have made a section of a highway available for testing of self-driving vehicles.

The state of Virginia has designated a 70-mile stretch of highway in the northern part of the state for an autonomous vehicle technology research project, which will be overseen by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). The Richmond-Times Dispatch reports that the highway portions of Interstates 95, 495 and 66, that will be part of the research, will be called Virginia Automated Corridors, but before driverless vehicles can hit the highway, they will have to undergo a trial on test tracks managed by the institute. Car makers and other companies that want to operate their driverless cars on Virginia’s highways will have to complete a series of tests at the Smart Road in Montgomery County and the Virginia International Raceway in Halifax County, so that the institute can certify that they can drive on public roads without posing a threat to public safety.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute hopes that opening up Virginia’s highways for driverless car testing will make the state an appealing destination for tech companies looking for an appropriate environment and conditions that will allow them to test their technological innovations properly.

“Other states are saying you need to prove that independently you can do all this testing. What we are trying to do is show them how to do the testing and how to facilitate the process as well”, said Myra Blanco, director of the VTTI’s Center for Automated Vehicle Systems, in a statement for the Richmond-Times Dispatch. “I think this is going to help us advance the technology and even more important, to attract companies and satellite offices in the Northern Virginia area to develop these new concepts”.

The sections of Virginia’s highways in the northern part of the state that will be at the disposal of automakers and tech companies like Google to test their self-driving cars are known for heaving a lot of heavy traffic oftentimes, which makes them an excellent place for testing autonomous driving technologies. The cars will face a variety of traffic scenarios and potential road hazards, including traffic jams and road work, so this project will be a perfect opportunity to see how reliable their self-driving equipment is.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute said that automakers are expected to start testing driverless cars on the Virginia Automated Corridors in about a year.