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Capitol Chatter: Driverless cars struggle when looking for lane lines

ST. PAUL -- A Minnesota Senate committee supported a pilot project for vehicles that drive themselves, but on the same day Reuters news service reported that things are not going well for some of the vehicles in California.

ST. PAUL -- A Minnesota Senate committee supported a pilot project for vehicles that drive themselves, but on the same day Reuters news service reported that things are not going well for some of the vehicles in California.

"Volvo's North American CEO, Lex Kerssemakers, lost his cool as the automaker's semi-autonomous prototype sporadically refused to drive itself during a press event at the Los Angeles Auto Show," Reuters reported. "'It can't find the lane markings!' Kerssemakers griped to Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was at the wheel. 'You need to paint the bloody roads here!'"

That would be a problem since many city streets and rural roads do not have lane markings.

"Poor markings and uneven signage on the 3 million miles of paved roads in the United States are forcing automakers to develop more sophisticated sensors and maps to compensate, industry executives say," Reuters' story said.

The topic of shoddy roads was not part of the Minnesota Senate discussion, even though it could cost state and local governments bundles of money to make roads compatible with the new technology.

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The legislation by Sen. Matt Schmit, D-Red Wing, would establish a 19-person panel to look into the issue. It is to report to the Legislature by the end of 2018 about the potential that driverless vehicles could help those with disabilities.

Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, supports the Schmit bill.

Minnesotans with disabilities comprise 20 percent of the population, noted Westrom, who became blind at the age of 14 after a car accident on his family’s dairy farm.

Also, the population of Minnesotans older than 64 will double to 1.2 million, or 24 percent of the state’s population by 2030, Westrom added.

“These segments of Minnesota’s population represent a large faction of individuals who require alternative transportation needs that are not currently being met by traditional public transit options,” Westrom said.

Westrom said the legislation would serve to place Minnesota on the vanguard of transportation technology in the U.S. and provide a valuable service to those who face transportation challenges, especially in rural Minnesota.

In addition to transportation freedom, autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to make Minnesota’s roads safer, Westrom said.

Ninety percent of all automobile fatalities are attributable to human error, Westrom said. Self-driving vehicles have the ability to greatly reduce the number of automobile-related injuries, deaths and property losses, he added.

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But for driverless cars to work right, roads need to change, Reuters says. "An estimated 65 percent of U.S. roads are in poor condition, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation."

The news service adds: "Tesla, Volvo, Mercedes, Audi and others are fielding vehicles that can drive on highways, change lanes and park without human help. But they are easily flummoxed by faded lane markers, damaged or noncompliant signs or lights, and the many quirks of a roadway infrastructure managed by thousands of state and local bureaucracies. ... To make up for roadway aberrations, carmakers and their suppliers are incorporating multiple sensors, maps and data into their cars, all of which adds cost."

 

Rubio keeps delegates

Only Minnesota Republicans gave U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio a statewide win before he dropped out of the presidential race.

State party rules require that delegates elected for Rubio must vote for him during this summer's national Republican convention on the first ballot. If no candidate receives half of the national delegates in the first ballot, Minnesota's delegates are free to vote for anyone on the next ballot.

In its March 1 precinct caucuses, Minnesota Republicans gave Rubio 17 national delegates, with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz receiving 13. Eight other delegates are pledged to Donald Trump. They must vote for those candidates as long as the candidates' names are on the ballot.

Early caucuses and primaries awarded delegates on a ratio to votes they received. Many states since then are winner-take-all contests.

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Environmental justice group starts

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is seeking people to serve on a newly created environmental justice group.

Pollution Control Commissioner John Linc Stine is forming the group to advise the agency. The MPCA says the group will provide input and recommendations about ways to incorporate the principles of environmental justice into the agency’s work.

Up to a dozen members will serve.

“It's far too easy to talk about remedying the disproportionate impacts of past pollution and preventing future harms,” Stine said. “We must put our words into action, and this advisory group is one of many steps we’re taking to fully integrate environmental justice into our programs."

The agency is seeking applicants for the job, with a May 16 deadline to apply. More information is available from Ned Brooks at Ned.Brooks@state.mn.us or (651) 757-2557.

 

Cut greater Minnesota noise

Sound barriers greater Minnesota residents see when they visit the Twin Cities soon may pop up in their neighborhoods.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has $700,000 available for cities around the state.

“Currently, most of the noise barriers are in the Twin Cities area, where higher traffic counts can create noise levels that exceed state standards,” MnDOT's Peter Wasko said. “There are many cities in greater Minnesota impacted by traffic noise and this funding will help address that.”

To qualify, cities must be adjacent to a limited access freeway, expressway or interstate where noise limits exceed the state daytime noise standard set by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

 

Davis covers Minnesota government and politics for Forum News Service. Read his blog at http://capitolchat.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @CapitolChatter.

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