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Driverless cars coming to Virginia interstates this year

RICHMOND, Va. -- Wireless connected and driverless vehicles will soon be on the road in Virginia. Commonwealth Transportation Board voted to approve the testing of those vehicles in High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes of Interstate 95 and Interstate 495 in Northern Virginia.

Developers hope the self-driving cars will result in less traffic accidents, while improving traffic flow.

"A very high percentage of our crashes are caused by drivers being distracted and this technology has the potential to completely eliminate those crashes," Virginia Department of Transportation Research Director Cathy McGhee said.

While McGhee said there would be a person behind the wheel of the car, the car itself would takeover some of the driver's functions.

"On Interstate 66, we have variable speed limits that are posted on signs over the road way, that alert the drivers to advisory speeds, when we want them to slowdown to avoid a backup," she said. "That information would be sent directly into a vehicle and the vehicle will actually adjust its speed automatically."

Sensors on the car also prevent the vehicles from drifting lanes and coming into contact with other connected cars. The cars can also get a feel for the flow of traffic regulate speeds to allow cars to merge safely and efficiently without creating a bottleneck.

"[The car takes] those functions away from the driver and provides warnings back to the driver, perhaps if they’re not paying attention," she said. "It has a tremendous potential to greatly increase the safety of our road ways."

The testing of the driverless cars is expected to begin in Virginia later this year.

"It’s unlikely that a driver would notice the difference, there will be a driver behind the wheel of the vehicle at all times, it’s just that the systems will be taking over some of the driver functions," McGhee said.

The cars will initially be tested on closed roads. Eventually the tests will expand to "light traffic" times.