With news this week about a proposal to devote part of Interstate 5 to self-driving cars, such vehicles no longer seem so futuristic. They might actually keep us safer on the road. Question is, how fast can this happen?

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The other day I was about to drive across East Pike Street when a large van heading east entered the intersection against the light and started what looked like a right turn. Actually, it was just preparation for swinging left into a wide U-turn in the intersection before zooming off to the west.

The van, of course, didn’t do this by itself. It was driven by a human, which made me rejoice at the thought of driverless cars eliminating one of the hazards of the road.

When I read that some tech people are proposing the stretch of Interstate 5 between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., be reserved for driverless cars, it made sense. The sooner people move away from the wheel, the better. The pace of preparation for that day has been speeding up and seems to have reached a pivotal moment.

The Obama administration this week announced federal guidelines for self-driving cars that would both encourage innovation and guard public safety. Several automakers and tech companies are working on driverless cars, and automakers expect to market vehicles within the next few years. Uber is testing a fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh.

And Bloomberg News reported that two Seattle tech leaders want to limit traffic on I-5 from Seattle to Vancouver to self-driving cars, trucks and buses. The story was from a cross-border innovation conference sponsored by Microsoft.

At a session Monday, Tom Alberg, co-founder of Madrona Venture Group and a board member of Amazon.com, and Craig Mundie, a former Microsoft executive, suggested a plan that would start with self-driving cars using the carpool lanes, and over time occupying the entire freeway.

They may be getting ahead of what’s doable, but how we get from place to place is going to change dramatically. For a lot of Americans, driving used to be about fun and freedom. But now it’s often about frustration. Driving in Seattle and many other cities means being stuck in traffic, or hunting for parking, then paying a king’s ransom for a spot if you find one.

But even worse, driving is about the risk of being on the road with other drivers. Driving is a skill that not everyone is good at, and some people ought not to do it at all. And there is the problem of drivers who are drunk or distracted. Computers don’t get drunk or distracted. They don’t feel rage, and they aren’t inclined to floor it if they’re running late. Autonomous cars are being embraced partly because they offer the possibility of making us all safer.

Last year, 35,200 people died in U.S. car crashes, and humans are implicated in most of those deaths.

There are downsides to driverless cars.

New technologies often create new jobs and kill some established ones. Cars are such a core part of the economy that the waves of impact will touch almost everything, sometimes in good ways, and sometimes not.

What happens to people who rely on jobs driving taxis, or who get extra income from ride-hailing services? Will bus and truck drivers lose their jobs? What effect will self-driving cars have on mass transit?

But before significant transformation happens, there are still lots of problems to be solved. Smarter cars are already making driving safer by helping people avoid costly errors. Cars can brake themselves, stay within lanes, let a driver know there’s someone in the blind spot. What’s hard for current technology is to see and react like a human.

It’s easier for a person to tell whether a big, dark area on the road is a shadow or a pothole or a dog. The Uber cars in Pittsburgh have humans ready to take over when cars face problems they can’t handle.

(A driver in Florida died in May when his Tesla hit a truck, likely because it did not recognize the danger. The system was never intended to be fully autonomous and included warnings that the driver should keep his hands on the wheel and be prepared to take control.)

The roads are full of human drivers who can behave in unpredictable ways that current technology can’t always anticipate, which will make things difficult until there are only autonomous cars on the road.

In the meantime, some combination of human and tech may be the best solution to the shortcomings of each. And that means solving the difficult problem of keeping a human driver focused, even when there’s not much to do but fiddle with a phone.