U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster. (congressional photo) U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster about to climb into the autonomous car. (Congressional photo)



Bill Shuster is rolling through his Pennsylvania congressional district as he never has before — in a custom 2011 Cadillac SRX with absolutely nobody behind the wheel.

With the 30-mile drive on highways and two-lane roads, in a car on what might be called auto-pilot, the head of the House transportation committee helped raise the curtain Wednesday on the future of automotive travel.

Cars that drive themselves have been a futuristic vision since the black and white cartoon TV series the Jetsons. Shuster’s little drive demonstrated it’s no longer some over-the-horizon maybe-some-day notion of what might be.

General Motors is just one U.S. manufacturer on the case. And Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Nissan and Volvo are among the others beginning to roll out autonomous auto systems.

Automotive News Europe says Mercedes has added an option called “Stop&Go Pilot” on it’s top-line S-class sedan. The $105,800 car is available with 12 ultrasonic detectors, five cameras and six radar sensors for about $3,500 more, Auto News reports.

The Mercedes won’t drive itself, but its computer-linked systems will control the car at speeds of less than 6 miles per hour and provides the driver with an array of information about everything around the car. Jochen Hermann of Mercedes tells Auto News that the totally self-controlled car is years away: “Autonomous drive won’t come as a resolution overnight. The driver needs to get used to the technology.”

When that day comes, and all the cars on the road are piloting themselves and communicating with each other without the help of a driver, that will give rise to at least a couple of questions. If cars no longer collide, will the auto body shop fade into history just as the blacksmith once did? And will anyone need auto insurance?