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Self-driving trucks hitting the road in central Ohio

Driverless trucks are hitting the road on U.S. 33. Governor John Kasich and other state officials unveiled plans to create a testing route from Dublin to East Liberty. (WSYX/WTTE)

Self-driving trucks are hitting the road on U.S. 33. Governor John Kasich and other state officials unveiled plans to create a testing route from Dublin to East Liberty.

An autonomous truck has already made several trips along the route. ODOT will install fiber optic cables along the 35-mile stretch to allow other self-driving vehicles to communicate with each other.

Kasich said this technology will help advance Ohio's economy into the 21st century. He said Ohio is an ideal place to test these new vehicles.

"You just want to test in California?" Kasich said. "No, because you want to test when it rains, you want to test when it snows, you want to text when it's slippery. You have all the ideal conditions."

The trucks will still have two people inside - one behind the wheel in an emergency and another monitoring the computer driving it.

Kasich said he wasn't concerned about the technology killing existing trucking jobs.

"Somebody who might be grabbing a steering wheel may be grabbing a computer where frankly they're going to make more money," he said.

Some truckers said they feel their job is safe as long as there are people still driving cars.

"You're still going to see unconnected vehicles on the road with these (self-driving cars)," said Tom Balzer with the Ohio Trucking Association. "You're still going to need drivers in the seats of these trucks to help navigate."

Kasich said he wanted to position Ohio to take the lead developing this new technology.

"They say we're in the Rust Belt. No, they're following us," Kasich said. "We're now in the lead."

Some traffic engineers said more self-driving cars will actually help with traffic. Connected cars can drive more closely together more safely than people can.

"This is where it's going," said Jim Barna, an engineer with ODOT. "We'll add capacity, but not necessarily pavement."

The project creating the smart highway corridor along US-33 is expected to cost $15 million in state funds.

Balzer said it would likely take about 25 years for all vehicles on the road to become autonomous.

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