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Driverless cars likely coming to Virginia interstates

RICHMOND, Va. -- After a vote Wednesday in Richmond, wireless-connected and autonomous vehicles could soon drive alongside human operated vehicles on two Virginia interstates.

The Commonwealth Transportation board is set to approve a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT),  federal researchers, and the companies that operate HOT lanes on Interstate 95 and 495. The agreement would allow testing of wireless connected and driverless vehicles in I-95 and I-495 HOT lanes in Virginia.

According to the United States Department of Transportation, "connected vehicles enable safe, interoperable networked wireless communications among vehicles, the infrastructure, and passengers’ personal communications devices."

Autonomous vehicles are commonly referred to as "self-driving" or "driverless."

Researchers want to see how autonomous cars can communicate with each other in the same lane and how they can work together to ease congestion in heavily trafficked highways.

"The purpose of this MOU is to perform research, development and demonstration tests at 95/495 Express Lanes in Virginia that will allow FHWA to assess the potential of Connected and Automated vehicles in a managed lanes or general purpose lanes scenario," a document attached to the MOU reads.

The researchers want to test the feasibility of speed harmonization, car and truck "platooning," and lane change or merger applications for the technology.  The MOU states researchers would initially begin testing on closed stretches of roadway, but could eventually test the systems with other drivers on the road during "light traffic" periods.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board is scheduled to vote on approval of the MOU at their meeting Wednesday.  It begins at 9 a.m. at VDOT's Central Auditorium at 1221 East Broad St in Richmond.