By Eric Tegethoff
Washington News Service
SEATTLE – Ready or not, here they come. Driverless cars have made their way to the state of Washington. Google is testing its fleet of driverless cars in Kirkland. The company chose the city as a testing ground because of its hilly terrain and wet road conditions much of the year.
Kirkland Mayor Amy Walen said she’s excited about the prospect of autonomous cars.
“Cars have only been around, you know, 120 years,” she said. “Look what’s happened in that 120 years. Think what’s going to happen in the next 20. It’s an exciting time to be involved in transportation.”
Kirkland was the third city in the U.S. to be chosen for driverless-car testing. The city has a close relationship with Google, which employs more than one thousand people in Kirkland and recently expanded its campus there.
The internet company’s pilot project in Kirkland also could be a testing ground for regulations on the industry. For instance, in the future it may be up to states or the federal government to decide if computer-driven cars still need manual controls or a licensed driver in the vehicle. Walen said regulators should work with developers to figure this out.
“We’re going to have to have a larger conversation about what are the issues with driverless cars and what should government’s role be in regulating their use,” she added. “But I hope that we can do that in partnership with Google and the other developers of the technology.”
Walen said reaction to the project from the community has been largely positive.
The Kirkland mayor also said driverless cars could be useful transportation for people with mobility issues, such as her 98-year-old grandmother.
“One of the advantages of having them in your community is you start to think, ‘This could work for my grandmother. This could work for me.’ You see the future happening in your community,” she said. “It’s pretty exciting.”
The autonomous fleet has logged over 1.5 million miles in Kirkland and three other cities around the country since the project began in 2009, according to Google’s April report on the project.