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Group launches task force to speed driverless cars

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A group working to reduce U.S. oil use is launching a task force to help development of self-driving cars.

Experts believe the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles will eventually dramatically reduce oil use by sharply reducing congestion, avoiding crashes and maintaining proper distance between vehicles.

The group, Securing America’s Future Energy, said Wednesday it was forming the Autonomous Vehicle Task Force. The task force will help develop an action plan that would facilitate the technology.

“Taking full advantage of the safety, economic, and national security benefits of driverless cars and trucks will require a concerted effort on the part of the public and policymakers to allow the technology to flourish, avoiding excessive regulation and creating policy only if necessary,” the group said. “As with all new products, autonomous vehicles will experience constant evolution, and it is important to get them on the road as soon as possible.”

The Texas A&M Transportation Institute said in its annual report this year that travel delays due to traffic congestion caused drivers to waste more than 3 billion gallons of fuel and kept travelers stuck in their cars for nearly 7 billion extra hours.

The study estimated the delays cost 42 hours per rush-hour commuter and the total cost nationwide was $160 billion, or $960 per commuter.

Larry Burns, a Google adviser who formerly was a vice president for research and development at General Motors, is part of the task force. He said autonomous vehicles could ultimately save drivers more than $1 per mile traveled. With Americans driving 3 trillion miles a year, the savings could be staggering.

He says the cost per mile to drive and own a car currently is about $1 to $1.60 a mile compared to 25 cents a mile with self-driving vehicles. This will “make mobility more affordable to more people,” Burns, and one that is “dramatically safer.”

Burns noted that there a billion cars on the roads worldwide and they have an average life span of 12 to 15 years, so it will take a while to get a widespread adoption of self-driving cars.

“For every day we accelerate the transition to connected and driverless vehicles, we save 3,000 lives, underscoring the importance of making a plan and getting these technologies on the road as quickly as possible,”

About 1.2 million people worldwide are killed in car crashes annually, including more than 30,000 in the United States.

Robbie Diamond, president and CEO of SAFE, said the opportunities were tremendous.

“Autonomy will accelerate the deployment and use of electric vehicles and stimulate the mobile sharing economy, breaking oil’s monopoly over the transportation sector and shielding the country from an increasingly volatile and unpredictable global oil market,” Diamond said.

The task force also includes Rutt Bridges, geophysicist and author of “Driverless Car Revolution”; Mike Granoff, principal at Maniv Mobility; Chunka Mui, co-founder and managing director of the Devil’s Advocate Group and author of “The New Killer Apps: How Large Companies Can Out-Innovate Start-Ups”; and Levi Tillemann-Dick, a fellow at the New America Foundation and author of “The Great Race: The Global Quest for the Car of the Future.”