Mass. lawmakers approve major expansion of self-driving cars

BOSTON — On Thursday Massachusetts leaders approved a major expansion of the use of self-driving cars on local roads.

Fifteen cities and towns, including Boston, have agreed to open up their roads for testing driverless cars.

Though it may be the way of the future, Massachusetts lawmakers are faced with overcoming fear and skepticism of this new technology.

“It was short and sweet and since no one was driving the vehicle – that’s about all I was looking for,” said Governor Charlie Baker, who symbolically rolled up in the back-seat of a self-driving car.

Baker’s announcement to expand testing for these vehicles allows company’s like “nuTonomy” and “Optimus Ride” to use local roads to test and improve their cars.

“The technology is pretty amazing and it’s coming,” said Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone. “It’s really here.”

Curtatone is onboard with autonomous vehicles but he knows it’s going to take a lot of convincing to change people’s minds.

“Like any new technology, any new innovation, there’s going to be some apprehension. It’s certainly going to be a profound behavioral change for all of us,” he said.

Any time there's a malfunction or a crash as a result of these testings (like what happened in Arizona last month) people get more and more apprehensive about trusting this type of technology.

According to Stephanie Pollack, who heads the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, all tests  will be conducted with a person inside the car to ensure it's safety.

“We understand safety is the number one consideration for people. All of the testing that is going on, there’s a human being behind the wheel at all times, that’s not going to change anytime soon,” said Pollack, adding that cars driven by people are hardly perfect.

According to Pollack, autonomous cars get smarter and safer by racking up miles, which makes it crucial to have the ability to test them out in different kinds of communities in Massachusetts.

Currently there are plans to test only five self-driving vehicles in the entire city of Boston.