State Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, took a drive in his favorite vehicle Wednesday to make a point about what he believes is the future of transportation.
With reporters and other legislators as passengers, Garofalo steered a Tesla Model S onto a west metro freeway. After manually merging onto Hwy. 169, he tapped the button for the electric car’s autopilot technology, which took over the driving.
Releasing the steering wheel, Garofalo said, “Look mom, no hands.”
Tesla has offered autopilot for about a year. It uses radar, ultrasonic sensors and a camera to figure out when to speed up, slow down and maintain proper vehicle spacing. It is not designed for street driving, only freeways.
Garofalo, chairman of the House Energy and Jobs Committee, is a believer in electric vehicles and owns a Tesla. He says that driverless technologies from Tesla, Google and other companies are on the horizon and that Minnesota needs to be prepared for them.
He said he plans to offer legislation in the next session to shape state policies for self-driving vehicles. He also believes that so-called “autonomous vehicles” can solve the problem of freeway congestion and avoid the need for light-rail investment.
“Within at least five years … you are going to have a dedicated lane on interstates for autonomous driving where the cars will talk to one another and they will drive down the road and accelerate at the same time and slow down at the same time,” Garofalo said.
“This eliminates the daisy chain stop-and-go effect you see right now in current traffic,” he added “It is just a better way of moving people and it allows us to leverage existing road infrastructure but increases capacity by 300 to 400 percent. It’s pretty cool.”
But Rep. Ron Erhardt, DFL-Edina, one of six legislators who joined Garofalo at the Tesla sales and service center in Eden Prairie, said he isn’t ready to jump aboard that transportation policy. He said the driverless car revolution envisioned by Garofalo will surely require more highway investment.
“I’m not buying it,” he said outside the Tesla center, referring to the policy.
Erhardt, who drives a Chrysler, also said he is not planning to buy a Tesla, which start around $79,500. “But it’s an exciting car,” he added.