MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota should prepare for thousands of “driverless” cars on state roads in the very near future.

That’s the prediction of a top state lawmaker, who says self-driving cars will one day outnumber traditional vehicles, and make other forms of transportation obsolete.

Republican State Rep. Pat Garofalo says Minnesota needs to get ready for what’s coming: a technology wave that will rapidly increase the number of self-driving cars on Minnesota roads.

“It’s not a theory. It’s happening right now,” Garofalo said, demonstrating semi-autonomous driving in a Tesla sedan on Highway 169 in Eden Prairie. More accurately, the Tesla drove itself. “The steering wheel is completely hands free. It’s completely safe. It’s aware of the vehicles around us.”

What’s coming, Garofalo said, is a future when self-driving vehicles — many of them electric — will outnumber traditional cars and trucks.

He says it’s a mistake for Minnesota to keep spending on old technology like light rail.

“Why would we spend billions of dollars on candles, when the light bulb is being invented? It just doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Next year, Minnesota lawmakers will debate hundreds of millions of dollars in light rail funding for a rail line in the Western Twin Cities suburbs.

Democratic leaders say both modes of transportation are necessary — smart cars and light rail.

“If everybody on the highway was doing it, that’s one thing,” said Rep. Ron Erhardt (DFL-Edina). “But how long does it take ’til there are enough of these on the highway so that they are the predominant means of transportation? A long, long time.”

Garofalo predicts self-driving cars will be common on Minnesota roads in just 3 to 5 years.

“In addition to being a safer, cheaper and more environmentally responsible way of moving cars, it’s also pretty cool, pretty relaxing. It’s pretty neat,” he said.

There are no laws regulating self-driving cars in Minnesota, and many states are beginning to grapple with the phenomenon.

Garofalo says he is preparing legislation for the 2016 Minnesota Legislature to designate some HOV lanes as self-driving car lanes.

Pat Kessler

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