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Driverless, electric vehicles still focus of Utah lawmaker

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SANDY, Utah (News4Utah) – As the demand for electric and autonomous vehicles rises, so does the number of questions as to how Utah will utilize the technology. 

The state’s population is expected to double by the year 2050, with 7 million expected to live in the Beehive State by 2060. This creates a demand for more efficient transportation, says Rep. Robert Spendlove (R- Sandy). Spendlove’s currently-on-hold legislation (H.B. 371) would allow driverless vehicles to be operating on Utah’s roadways in the very near future. 

In a panel discussion at Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy, Spendlove along with panelists representing Utah Department of Transportation, Utah Transit Authority and others discussed the need for Utah to adapt to growing demand for driverless and electric vehicles. 

The challenge, Spendlove says, is how to adapt. Changes, he suggested, would have to happen with how insurance works, how the term “motor vehicle operator” is defined and infrastructure to acommodate future technology. 

“We should be looking for a system that is better than the one we have right now,” said Spendlove. 

The Future of Transportation event was sponsored by The Utah Foundation, a non-partisan think-tank that facilitates discussions on hot-button issues in the state. 

Spendlove’s ideas regarding transportation are not new; many states have already implemented similar technology – and Utah is on the front lines of inviting companies and researchers to test new products. 

Tuesday, a Nissan Leaf – a totally electric, zero-emission sedan – was available for visitors at the panel discussion to ride. The car, according to Nissan’s website, costs nearly $29,000. Still, savings on electric vehicles are significant. Some Americans spend $2,000 annually on fuel, according to the Department of Energy. Electric vehicles cut fuel costs by more than half.

Recently, the state legislature hiked registration fees for electric cars. Spendlove’s bill, which still needs more study and debate, would allow autonomous vehicles – hybrid or electric – to be on Utah roads — even without a licensed driver in the vehicle. 

He believes driverless cars will save thousands of lives. 

“94 percent of vehicle crashes are caused by human error,” Spendlove said. “This will save thousands and thousands of lives.”

Representatives with UDOT have told News4Utah, the advent of driverless vehicles will make ride-sharing services like Uber more efficient, cutting down on congestion on the freeway. It could also help the disabled and others get around, who normally would not be able to drive. Several Utah universities, including University of Utah and Utah State University, have been testing driverless vehicles. 

In an informal Facebook poll conducted by News4Utah, 59 percent of users who participated said they would prefer to drive gasoline vehicles, due to the high price tag of electric cars. 

NOTE: At Tuesday’s panel discussion The University of Utah also provided information on a contest, with a grand prize of $1 million, where participants can submit ideas on economically-efficient transportation solutions. Click here for more information

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