By Christina Hager

CAMBRIDGE (CBS) – Recent fatal crashes involving driverless cars have been a major setback to the industry. But in a Cambridge conference room Thursday, the road to filling our streets with unmanned cars seemed shorter than one might think.

“Autonomous vehicles should prove to be far safer on the road. Generally, the software doesn’t take a coffee break or look down at its Twitter account,” said Jeff Adams, who heads up the New England chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

google driverless car Local Companies Hope Driverless Cars Prove To Be Far Safer On Roads

A Google self-driving car. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The organization held a summit on the subject at Draper.

Three local companies have been given the green light to test-drive automated vehicles in restricted parts of Boston’s Seaport District and Devens, but only with drivers behind the wheel. What’s next? Experts say engineers are on the verge of testing them unmanned.

“Some people think that they will be adopted sooner than they actually will be, but those of us in the industry understand there’s still a lot to be done,” said Chris Bessette, program manager for self-driving cars with Draper.

He predicts driverless taxicabs in about 5 years, and driverless cars available to consumers at an affordable price in about 15 years.

Ready or not, experts say the Boston area is at the forefront.

The city’s confusing road system and notorious foul weather provides engineers with an opportunity to work through unique challenges.

“It was developed and devised from cow paths and cart paths from 1700,” said Adams.

If an unmanned car can battle Boston traffic, other roads might be a breeze.

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