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The Future of Transportation: No Driver Needed

What used to be science fiction is now closer to reality. Driverless cars are speeding to a road near you, but just how close are we to having driverless cars c...

What used to be science fiction is now closer to reality. Driverless cars are speeding to a road near you, but just how close are we to having driverless cars cruise down our highways in Pennsylvania.

Driverless cars have been cruising along high-tech highways in Hollywood for years, like in the 1990 film "Total Recall."

Newswatch 16 wanted to find out when all of us could hop into a car in our area that’ll drive itself.

“Well, there’s been tremendous progress, but there’s a long way to go,” said Roger Cohen from PennDOT. “The driving environment is incredibly complex, and the cars have a lot to learn.”

To help us learn more about driverless cars, Newswatch 16 turned to Cohen. He’s PennDOT’s policy director and co-chair of the autonomous vehicle policy task force, a.k.a. Pennsylvania’s driverless car guru.

“There’s going to be 70 million more Americans in 2045,” explained Cohen. “Those people are going to require transportation. That’s going to test our capacity.”

Since driverless cars can safely travel closer together, more vehicles can fit on current highways.

Cohen says, “Humans are responsible for 94 percent of all crashes. These vehicles promise over the long term to be much, much safer.”

That could also mean fewer DUIs, better mobility for the elderly and the disabled, and fewer tickets written by police. However, that could also have a somewhat negative impact on the revenue of our communities. The state is taking all that into consideration.

So which car company is leading the driverless charge?

“Tesla has the most aggressive program," Cohen said.

But several others, including Audi, are also in the race.

“It’s a wonderful future," said Charles McFadden, Audi sales manager.

Wyoming Valley Audi in Larksville is already selling high tech rides that are getting closer to being driverless.

“It’s crazy. I can’t believe where we’re going with it,” explained Michael McFadden, a technical specialist at Wyoming Valley Audi.

Michael McFadden gave us a ride in an Audi 35. This sports car can read speed limits, detect vehicles in blind spots, and has something called traffic jam assist. It basically allows the car to move on its own in stop-and-go situations. Plus, it also has a feature called lane assist.

“You can see I don’t have my hands on the wheel. It’s bringing me back to the left,” added Michael McFadden.

It’s not only Audi blazing the self-driving car trail, but also Cadillac. We took one for a spin to find out what it can do.

Marc Vanston with R.J. Burne Cadillac in Scranton took us for a ride in a 2018 Cadillac CT6. It has all the bells and whistles including multiple cameras with one in the rear-view mirror. As for how close this Cadillac is to being driverless, this ride, like some other modern vehicles, can parallel park itself. Once the person behind the wheel finds the right spot.

Vanston added, “I control the gas and the brake, and it does the steering.”

Both cars Newswatch 16 took for a spin start at around $60,000 and still require a driver. So how much will a driverless car cost?

“They’re not bargain basement. That’s for sure,” Cohen said.

But we may not have to pay those high sticker prices. Experts predict we’ll travel company owned vehicles, like a fleet of Uber self-driving cars.

So what do future car passengers think of all this technology? We took that question to Jefferson Elementary Center in Mount Cobb.

“I think it’s pretty weird,” said Ella Geck, a second grader from Jefferson Township.

Cole Boyle from Jefferson Township Elementary says he does not trust the self-driving cars. He says he’d rather drive.

The good news is, the state predicts you’ll still have that option, but may require those who still like to drive to use designated areas kind of like a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane.

Cohen says his best guess, it will be 10 to 15 years before we will be able to ride a driverless car and get on Interstate 81.