Industry expert thinks self-driving cars could make Va. roadways safer

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

RICHMOND, Va. – Self-driving cars are being developed right now by Google, Apple, Tesla and several other companies. On Thursday, industry experts were showcasing the cars and discussing when they will be on the road in Virginia.

Dwight Farmer dreamed of owning a car like the Jetsons had; he used to sit on the picnic table and pretend he was flying a car.

While such a car isn't a reality right now, Farmer studies vehicles that get him halfway there -- self-driving cars.

"I think it's clear roadways will become much, much safer,” Farmer said, who was speaking at a luncheon sponsored by Virginians for High Speed Rail.

Farmer said developers have made incredible strides in how self-driving technology tracks and predicts problems on the road.

"Some are getting into the ethical questions of this computer is going to have to make a decision to hit the shopping cart or the child,” Farmer said. We're on the verge of having that capability."

He said he believes that most people think about not having to touch a steering wheel when it comes to self-driving cars, but said a system-wide change could have another impact many people aren't thinking about.

“We could easily double the capacity of existing infrastructure,” he said.

He means that more cars could fit on existing highways, if programmed vehicles would mean less space between each car --which he said would make our highways more efficient.

But the self-driving vehicle industry still faces speed bumps.

Joshua Brown of Canton Ohio was driving with auto pilot on a Florida road in May. As a tractor-trailer turned in front of Brown, his Tesla plowed ahead -- its roof striking the underside of the trailer and passing underneath it.

The autonomous mode is meant to handle some, but not all, driving situations. The software isn't perfect, and Tesla advises human drivers to keep their hands on the wheel at all times, and to stay alert.

Many drivers interviewed by CBS 6 said they would have a hard time giving up control of their car.

Michael Winn's 2001 Malibu is far from automated.

Like many, he's curious, but skeptical, about this generation of self-driving cars.

"Once they become more vehicles instead of prototypes, then they'll be more realistic,” Winn said.