Detroit Today: Can self-driving cars thrive in the Motor City?

Industry experts discuss how the safety, funding and governance of driverless cars will affect Detroit.

FILE - Google's self-driving Lexus car drives along street during a demonstration at Google campus on May 13, 2015, in Mountain View, Calif.

FILE - Google's self-driving Lexus car drives along street during a demonstration at Google campus on May 13, 2015, in Mountain View, Calif.

Construction began last week on a $10 million pilot project to create what the Michigan Department of Transportation has called the “world’s most sophisticated roadway.”

The goal is to create the first connected and automated vehicle travel lane on I-94 — part of a larger plan to connect Detroit to Ann Arbor.

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Detroit recently announced its own pilot program to provide self-driving shuttles for select older residents and those with disabilities that don’t qualify for paratransit services, beginning next year.

On the surface, these programs herald an era of innovation, with promises of reducing traffic congestion, offering safer transportation options and granting independence to those with limited access to mobility. But as with all new frontiers, there are concerns of safety, unemployment and outdated infrastructure.

Former NHTSA safety advisor Missy Cummings and Brookings Institution’s Clifford Winston joined Detroit Today to discuss the present and potential future of self-driving vehicles in society.


Missy Cummings is the director of Mason’s Autonomy and Robotics Center and a professor at George Mason University. She previously served as the senior safety advisor to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Cummings says the technology powering self-driving cars, while impressive, is not fully developed.

“We keep saying that we’re going to use these cars to bring down [human-caused] crashes…but somehow the self-serving industry forgets that there are errors made by coders now,” states Cummings.

Clifford Winston is a senior fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Economic Studies program, specializing in the analysis of industrial organization, regulation and transportation. He is also the author of the book “Autonomous Vehicles: The Road to Economic Growth?”

Winston says many of the concerns with self-driving cars mirror those when other forms of transportation were introduced in the past. For Winston, driverless cars are a natural progression in the evolution of transport.

“Autonomous vehicles just represent another step in that continuum,” says Winston.

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