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Ohio Turnpike may be used to test driverless vehicles

Before the general public and automakers become comfortable with letting self-driving vehicles off closed courses and test tracks and out in “the wild,” there needs to be a lot of testing. According to state officials, the Ohio Turnpike may soon be approved as a self-driving test route, as reported to the Associated Press.

If the state gets the go-ahead, the Ohio Turnpike’s 241-mile stretch of Interstate Route 80 is a good choice, according to the roadway’s executive director, Randy Cole. The turnpike is fairly straight, has three lanes in each direction, and has wider-than-usual lane markings, according to Cole.

Related: Do we really need a national self-driving testing facility?

The Ohio Turnpike also provides a test route with snow and ice. “It’s got to start happening on real roads,” said Cole. “That’s part of getting the consumer confidence.”

The turnpike has less traffic than Ohio’s other interstate highways. It also has fiber optic cable the full distance, which could assist vehicle-to-vehicle communications and help with data collection, according to Ohio Department of Transportation assistant director Jim Barna.

The U.S Transportation Departments National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is working on regulations for self-driving cars. A preliminary report was originally expected in July. The report has been delayed, but the regulations are expected before year’s end.

Tesla’s approach is to track its cars to compile and learn from its driver-assistance Autopilot feature. Google‘s, and soon Uber‘s, testing puts two specially trained observers in the front seat to monitor their self-driving tests. Many carmakers and others in the growing self-driving industry want to use approved test facilities or selected roadways. If chosen, the Ohio Turnpike, which links Youngstown, Cleveland, and Toledo, could be the first such highway.

Ohio is also in the process of reading a section of U.S. Route 33 northwest of Columbus for additional self-driving tests.