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TDOT commissioner talks autonomous vehicles

Matt Masters • Aug 28, 2018 at 4:38 PM

Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer spoke about the coming revolution of autonomous vehicles Thursday at the Lebanon-Wilson County Chamber of Commerce’s Lunch and Learn event at Five Oaks Golf & Country Club in Lebanon.

Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Schroer the 29th TDOT commissioner. Schroer is also former mayor of Franklin.

He spoke to a packed room of about 70 people with a presentation on the future of transportation and more specifically the coming revolution of autonomous vehicles that will operate almost completely free of human operators with the goal of safer, cheaper and more efficient forms of transportation.

“Those cars are going to be available in the next two or three years in our country,” Schroer said.

“You’re not going to be able to go buy a Ford Escort or whatever they’re selling, because those cars will be for their autonomous fleet. You won’t probably buy autonomous vehicles, and the reason being is because the way insurance is working, and the way the national government is talking about autonomous vehicles. They’re making the car producers, the manufactures insure that vehicle, so you won’t have to have [car] insurance,” Schroer said. “They’re going to make sure they maintain them, they’re in control of them and everything is working on them because ultimately it’s the technology that’s doing the driving.

“So we’re going to belong to the services, the Ford service or the General Motors service or the Audi service, and that’s how we will go to and from work. We’ll probably own a car for a while. We’ll use it when we drive to the grocery store or go out on the weekend, but most of the time, we’ll use autonomous vehicles, and as we do that we will start saving lives, and that’s really what this is all about.”

Schroer gave an example of New York City from 1900-1913, where the mode of transportation changed from horse and buggy to the automobile in a relatively short timeframe. Schroer said it’s currently in the first five years of a similar revolution that will take about the same amount of time, 13 years, to become fully integrated in society.

Schroer cited several numbers and said the average cost to own a car in the United States is between $700-$800, coupled with the near 40,000 highway deaths per year, 94 percent of which are caused by human error.

Schroer said the goal of TDOT is to make sure government investments are compatible with the future of autonomous vehicles. He said safety is the main concern with any efforts to which TDOT commits.

Schroer also promoted a high-technology corridor between Murfreesboro and Nashville that will act as a pilot program to implement a variety of technologies to make travel safer and more efficient.

“We’re putting every type of technology available to us in that corridor of I-24 and Murfreesboro Road, which will include [dedicated short-range communications] units, that will receive and transmit information from the cars and to the cars. We’ll have traffic-signal coordination on Murfreesboro Roads, dynamic message boards telling drivers what to do and where to go, what speed to drive in order to reduce congestion, so lots of new technology that’s going to be involved,” Schroer said.

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