Seminars at Steamboat speaker looks into future of driverless vehicles

Frances Hohl
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Robert Puentes
Courtesy photo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — One of the nation’s leading transportation policy experts told the audience attending Seminars at Steamboat on July 30 that common use of full autonomous vehicle, or AVs, are a generation to 50 years off, but communities need to start implementing rules and regulations now to guide the process.

Robert Puentes, CEO of think tank Eno Center for Transportation said Colorado is leading the way in driverless-car technology after passing a law last year that permits driverless vehicles on the road if they follow state and federal driving regulations.

The Eno Center was founded in 1921 by the man who invented the stop sign, William Phelps Eno. The center works to improve public policy for all modes of transportation.

“The promise of autonomous vehicles is enormous. We know there are 40,000 people that die each year on the roadways and 90 percent of those crashes are result of human error,” Puentes said. “It’s like three Boeing 777s going down every day. If that was even once a week, people would be doing something about it.”

Puentes explained that the federal government hasn’t passed any legislation that sets AV policy, so states like Colorado are jumping in to attract companies that want to test their driverless vehicles.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is also working with a Kansas-based company to develop a half mile of highway with smart technology on U.S. Highway 285 — 80 miles southwest of Denver — that could eventually be used with AVs.

Puentes said that there are bigger hurdles than the actual AV technology, like how to officially certify AVs and who has liability. He also said AV developers have to get out ahead of possible cyber attacks that could take control of a vehicle.

He said right now AV technology has trouble dealing with regular roads that get rain, and that the idea of putting an AV on a Steamboat Springs road with ice, snow and mountain terrain is even further off.

“Over the next decade, the AV technology will change the landscape rapidly. I don’t think we’re going to know what it looks like,” Puentes said.

In the meantime, city and county officials should be planning for the scenario of AV technology even though it could be decades away. He said local governments should plan for various scenarios. For example they can put in policies for parking and curb space so when the time comes for AVs there won’t be as much community upheaval.

Puentes said the most aggressive companies researching AV technology right now include Tesla, GM, BMW, Audi, Volvo and Daimler.

Puentes said there are ten test sites across the nation using AV vehicles like vans to carry people, but in a very closed, limited space like an office park.

Puentes’ entire talk, “The Road Ahead for Autonomous Vehicles,” will be broadcast on KUNC Radio 88.5 in the Yampa Valley at 8 p.m. Aug. 12. Seminars at Steamboat hosts cutting edge policy issues with the country’s greatest writers, policy makers and government leaders. You can find this season’s previous talks at

The next Seminars at Steamboat event will be a policy debate between Elaine Kamarck of The Brookings Institution and Morris Fiorina of The Hoover Institution, moderated by NPR Washington correspondent Ron Elving titled “The Future of the Democratic and Republican Parties.” The presentation will take place at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 13 at Strings Music Pavilion, 900 Strings Road.

Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today

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