Among the States, Self-Driving Cars Have Ignited a Gold Rush

Among the States, Self-Driving Cars Have Ignited a Gold Rush

Whether it is fuel savings, safer commutes or freed-up time behind the wheel, drivers have many reasons to embrace self-driving cars.

But another group is just as eager to see these vehicles on the road: politicians.

Lawmakers from California, Texas and Virginia are wooing the autonomous car industry, along with the jobs and tax revenue that come with it.

They are financing research centers, building fake suburbs for testing the cars, and, perhaps most important, going light on regulation, all in an effort to attract a rapidly growing industry.

The prize: A piece of the estimated $20 billion automakers and other companies will spend globally on development over the next five years, according to an analysis by Gartner.

“The first thing is, don’t do anything to discourage,” said Richard M. Biter, assistant transportation secretary in Florida, which is among the states chasing the nascent industry. “It’s like the Hippocratic oath.”

Virginia, for example, is trying to attract carmakers with its clogged highways.

In June, the state designated 70 miles of roads in Northern Virginia for autonomous car testing. The roads run from hilly to flat and congested to clear, giving carmakers a variety of conditions for testing.

“If we are able to help companies by facilitating the process for them, we’re going to help bring business to the state,” said Myra Blanco, director of the Center for Automated Vehicle Systems at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va. Opened in 2013, the center is funded by state and federal agencies and private companies.

Ms. Blanco said her lab would help auto manufacturers run experiments and analyze data, along with taking care of licensing and insurance issues.

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