The Chairman Has No Driver!

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster plans to take a spin in futuristic vehicle.

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa.
National Journal
Fawn Johnson
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Fawn Johnson
Sept. 2, 2013, 8:12 a.m.

Wed­nes­day could be a very in­ter­est­ing day for House Trans­port­a­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bill Shuster, R-Pa. He is tak­ing a 30-mile ride in a car that drives it­self. The route from sub­urb­an Cran­berry, Pa., to Pitt­s­burgh In­ter­na­tion­al Air­port in­cludes mul­tiple in­ter­sec­tions, low-speed single-lane roads, and high-speed high­way traffic with com­plex traffic lights.

How is this pos­sible? Through a driver­less car be­ing de­veloped at Carne­gie Mel­lon Uni­versity. Shuster prob­ably wants one, con­sid­er­ing that he has to make the drive from Wash­ing­ton to his ho­met­own of Hol­l­i­days­burg, Pa., at least once a week. (He says it’s two hours and 40 minutes with no traffic.)

But, of course, Shuster may re­think the whole driver­less concept when he sees the gi­ant “Emer­gency Stop” red but­ton where the car ra­dio should be. He shouldn’t worry, though. A “dul­cet fe­male voice” will tell him ex­actly what is go­ing on, ac­cord­ing to a de­scrip­tion of the car from the Pitt­s­burgh Post-Gaz­ette.

Shuster will be rid­ing with Barry Schoch, Pennsylvania’s trans­port­a­tion sec­ret­ary, to high­light the need to main­tain in­nov­a­tion in trans­port­a­tion in the United States. That’s a noble goal for the trans­port­a­tion guru of Con­gress to ex­press. But at the press con­fer­ence af­ter­ward, ex­pect most of the ques­tions to go to the en­gin­eers who de­signed the car at the CMU-Gen­er­al Mo­tors Autonom­ous Driv­ing Col­lab­or­at­ive Re­search Lab. Does it honk in traffic? Can it par­al­lel park? When can I get one?

The cur­rent ver­sion is a 2011 Ca­dillac SRX equipped with four com­puters, mul­tiple sensors, radars, lasers, and of course GPS. The en­gin­eers say 90 per­cent of all car ac­ci­dents are caused by hu­man er­ror, such as dis­trac­ted driv­ing, sleep­i­ness, or drunk­en­ness. Don’t for­get just plain stu­pid­ity. A car that drives it­self, pre­sum­ably, has noth­ing bet­ter to do than get you to your des­tin­a­tion while you text your sweetie or put on your makeup.

Of course, it’s prob­ably go­ing to be 10 years or more be­fore such vehicles are avail­able com­mer­cially. But we can only dream.

There’s no word yet on wheth­er Shuster will be in the driver’s seat or rid­ing shot­gun.

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