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Automated car tests set for Selmon Expressway elevated lanes

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Published:   |   Updated: July 25, 2014 at 06:39 PM

The elevated lanes of the Selmon Expressway between downtown and U.S. 301 will be closed during the day Sunday and Monday so Audi can test a new car that doesn’t require someone to steer, brake and accelerate in traffic.

A “driverless” car isn’t really the term to describe the car’s control system, said Susan Chrzan, spokeswoman for the expressway. “There’s always a driver,” she said.

The system acts more like an automatic pilot, she said.

The stretch of highway, also known as reversible express lanes, is one of 10 such roads in the nation - and one of two in Florida - on which such tests are allowed, she said.

The elevated lanes, which accommodate westbound morning rush-hour traffic and reverses the flow in the afternoon, will be closed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday and 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday, she said.

The gates at Meridian Avenue and 34th Street will be closed, but the elevated highway will remain open east of U.S. 301, she said.

In January, the elevated lanes were designated as an automated vehicle test site, she said, “because of its uniqueness and real-world conditions.”

The tests will involve a car that is able to maneuver in traffic without someone steering or braking. The tests will include a few other cars called pace vehicles that will travel nearby to simulate real traffic. The tests won’t exceed 40 mph, she said, and a law enforcement officer will follow the test for safety reasons.

Chrzan said she doesn’t expect many complaints because traffic on the expressway is light on Sunday and Monday’s closure won’t interfere with rush hour.

Cars that drive themselves aren’t on the market yet, said Brad Stertz, communications manager with Audi of America, who is in town this weekend to observe the test. The day when travelers hop into the back seat and let the car take them to a destination won’t be a reality anytime soon, he said.

“That’s probably a generation away,” he said.

The technology being tested will be used for highway driving in traffic-jam conditions up to 40 mph, he said. The driver won’t have to hit the gas and then the brakes constantly, he said.

“The car does that for you,” he said.

He said the elevated road of the Selmon Expressway was picked because of its certification as a testing ground for the new technology.

“We wanted to see how the technology is operating in a warmer climate and in real-world conditions,” he said.

Florida is among a handful of states receptive to the technology, and this test will “call attention to the way Florida is approaching its laws dealing with this new frontier,” Stertz said. He said Florida’s stand on automated vehicles is “progressive compared to the way other states are handling this type of technology.”

kmorelli@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7760

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