Rural Minnesota Towns Consider Driverless Car Technology

December 5, 2017

A transportation researcher says rural Minnesota residents could benefit from driverless cars.

Frank Douma from the University of Minnesota created a task force last year to examine how to give residents across the state access to self-driving vehicles, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.

While many think of driverless vehicles being a possibility in cities or suburbs, Douma said they could also benefit rural communities. People who can’t drive because of disabilities or financial obstacles, as well as older drivers could benefit from self-driving technologies, he said.

“I think it’s a tremendous growth opportunity for us,” said Itasca County Sheriff Vic Williams. “It allows the accessibility for people limited in their mobility to be able to have some freedoms that we take for granted.”

Myrna Peterson is on Douma’s task force. She was paralyzed in a car accident more than 20 years ago. The 68-year-old often makes a 2-mile commute to Grand Rapids in her electric wheelchair.

“Twenty-three surgeries later, I’m not dead yet,” she said. “I am on a mission to make things more accessible for those people who don’t have a voice or are incapable of speaking for themselves.”

However, the technology is still being developed. Guidelines and legal policies need to be created to deal with liability and insurance issues.

But the state Department of Transportation is making advances in self-driving vehicle technology. The department plans to run a self-driving shuttle in Minneapolis during the week of the Super Bowl in February.

Douma predicts such vehicles could be on the road by 2025 or 2030. The vehicles could also improve the state’s 41 rural transit systems and cut down on recruitment and drivers’ salary expenses, he said.

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