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Driverless cars are coming to downtown Grand Rapids in March 2019

How will it affect our city? There are many different positions on this topic and a lot of different variables to consider.

/Photo by Jayden Turner

Driverless vehicles are coming to Grand Rapids in March 2019. How will it affect our city? There are many different positions on this topic and a lot of different variables to consider.
What are driverless vehicles? These are transportation mechanisms that guide themselves through roadways and traffic using sensors and pre-programmed routes. They don’t need a human being behind the wheel in order to operate. The outcome of driverless cars are yet unknown, we think residents should assume changes to car ownership, taxi needs, and road accidents. 
May Mobility, a company that is teaming with the City of Grand Rapids, will be to provide slow moving, driverless shuttles to our city in the year ahead. Their vision is to foster safe, convenient travel to Grand Rapids’ residents. This is just the beginning.
Driverless shuttles aren’t the only application of this technology in Grand Rapids. Shipping companies nationwide are starting to invest in driverless cabs. “I think it’s going to give cities like Grand Rapids opportunities to get people and goods from Point A to Point B,” says Max Gibbs, the Powertrain Noise and Vibrations Supervisor at Ford Motor Company. Innovation is needed to foster the next steps for this technology. 
Immediate innovations must occur around traffic and pedestrian laws. “I think pedestrian signs might change when it comes to crossroads,” says Anna Vasquez, the Administrative Assistant at the Keller Ford Body Shop. “I mean, I would not feel comfortable walking across the street if I knew there were driverless cars.”
To make citizens feel more secure, more laws will be needed. Pedestrian crossings and school zones will require particular care in the creation and implementation of sensors and laws. Safety is critical for all.
Drivers have mixed feelings about driverless cars on their roads. “There is a group of people who believe that no matter what, driverless cars will be unsafe and will cause more problems than fixing them, but there’s also a group who believes that driverless cars will make driving safer,” says Tristin Hyde, a driver and resident in Grand Rapids. Both groups have voiced their concerns over the years, and car manufacturers have done their best to accommodate fears and innovation needs. Everyone’s main concern is over the safety on the road.
Technological advancements have precipitated driverless cars and advancement is ongoing. “I feel eventually they will be advanced enough so that they can safely be on the roads without the need of extra precautions, but as long as there are people-driven cars on the road there will be risks and the self-driving cars will have to make some hazardous decisions,” says eleventh grader, Logan Riffle. 

The impact on driver’s licenses is evidence of a shifting paradigm in transportation needs. A January 2016 article in The Atlantic stated that from 1987 to today, there is a 47% drop of 16-year olds having licenses. This shift in driver’s licenses is indicative of the mental and physical shift in our transportation needs.

We need to be ready. From increasing safety features to updating laws, we think Grand Rapids can look forward to potential job growth, transportation improvements, and hopefully, long-term safety on our roads. 

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