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Why Arizona is driving the future of self-driving cars

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When you think of places at the forefront of innovation, of course, California’s Silicon Valley immediately comes to mind. But when it comes to self-driving cars, one of the most transformative technological developments of our time, Arizona’s own Valley of the Sun is a pioneer.

At General Motors, we have been proud to test our autonomous vehicles on public roads in Scottsdale since June 2016. The continued development of this life-changing technology depends on taking these vehicles out of the lab to rigorously test them in real world driving conditions. The metro Phoenix area has served as an ideal proving ground for this testing due to its variety of city driving conditions and ideal climate.

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Paul Hemmersbaugh

Arizona is a great place to test self-driving cars, but it’s no happy accident the state is playing a key role in the dramatic evolution of mobility. Indeed, with forward-thinking leadership at all levels of government, Arizona stands out in fostering an environment where this technology is not only allowed to be tested and developed, but is strongly encouraged.

In 2015, Gov. Doug Ducey signed an executive order to support the testing and operation of self-driving cars in Arizona, allowing for accelerated innovation while keeping public safety the top priority. Under his leadership, companies of all sizes have been able to advance their self-driving technology development without being held back by burdensome regulations.

Local leaders are also leaning in to this technology, as mayors from Chandler, Tempe, Scottsdale and other cities embrace responsible testing of autonomous vehicles. Thanks to their leadership and the support of many across the Arizona technology and business communities, the state is on the cutting edge when it comes to self-driving cars.

For all the reasons to support further self-driving car tests in Arizona, safety is by far the most important. Data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration show the number of motor vehicle fatalities continue to rise each year, a tragic trend caused primarily by the increasing number of distractions drivers face. Considering that autonomous vehicles will never drive distracted, tired, or impaired like human drivers, they have the potential to dramatically reduce fatalities and increase safety.

Beyond the promise to improve safety, self-driving cars could move our economy forward by increasing mobility and efficiency. These vehicles have the potential to ease traffic congestion and reduce pollution while allowing for a more productive commute. What’s more, they would increase independence for those who cannot drive a car while providing greater mobility for communities without access to public transportation. Self-driving cars in ridesharing fleets also have the potential to provide affordable, on-demand transportation for people who cannot afford to own a car, while expanding job opportunities for those with limited transportation options.

This vision of a safer, better future is the most important reason General Motors is heavily invested in testing our self-driving cars in places like Arizona. From our IT Innovation Center in Chandler to our Cruise Automation facility in Scottsdale, we are excited to answer Governor Ducey’s call to bring continued innovation to the state. It is our hope that more states across the country will follow Arizona’s lead by enacting policies that allow for expanded testing of these vehicles. It is through this comprehensive testing in diverse environments that we will earn the trust and confidence of the public in this breakthrough technology.

Though we cannot fully predict the many ways self-driving cars will change our lives, their promise to improve safety, while delivering a host of additional economic and societal benefits, is reason enough to undertake the challenge of making them a reality. Arizonans should be proud that their state is a leader in developing this life-saving, life-enhancing technology, and helping to someday bring its benefits to all.

— Paul Hemmersbaugh is chief counsel and public policy director, transportation as a service, at General Motors.

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

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