NHTSA deems driverless shuttle ‘irresponsible and inappropriate’

The idea of a driverless shuttle that takes kids to school does not sit well with Brenna Jolly.

“I wouldn’t feel safe,” Jolly said, a mother who lives in Punta Gorda.

Jolly was not surprised the government put the brakes on a route that allowed an electric shuttle bus to transport children to school in the Babcock Ranch Community.

“No driver?” Jolly said. “Because that’s kind of like their protector, you know. If anything happens, they’re kind of responsible.”

Driverless shuttles have been transporting passengers in the solar powered community since January.

“I’ve been in it a couple times,” Terrace Barkstale said, “and it’s pretty safe.”

However, the first few rides Barkstale took were not the best traveling experiences.

“There was a lot of traffic around and big trucks,” Barkstale said. “It was a little nerve-racking.”

Children could take the buses to the Babcock neighborhood school on Friday, until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shut the route down. The government organization called it irresponsible and inappropriate.

But the use of driverless vehicles are an enviable future that will save tax payer money.

A study by the research firm Strategy Analytics and company Intel estimates between 2035 and 2045 that more than 500,000 lives will be saved by autonomous vehicles. As a result, public safety expenditures would be reduced by more than $234 billion.

“It’s new technology and I think we have to learn how to live with this technology, so people can be suspicious,” Sandrine Rohrer said. “I can understand that.”

The driverless shuttle has features, like emergency buttons, which empower passengers with a sense of control. Moving at 8 mph also adds to the perceived safety of passengers when they are traveling in this driverless vehicle.

Syd Kitson, the chief executive officer of Kitson and Partners, said safety was the top priority when the community started operating the test shuttles. He disagrees with transportation officials, who claim the project violated approved terms.

“It was a surprise but that’s okay — that’s part of innovation,” Kitson said. “When you innovate sometimes there’s bumps a long the way and you have to deal with those and do it the right way and we’re going to do that.”

Kitson and Partners told WINK News its hoping they can come to terms with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to restart the school route.

Reporter:Gina Tomlinson
Writer:Michael Mora