(TNS) — The state has launched a pilot program to test fully autonomous vehicles, an initiative lawmakers created last year to bring Connecticut to the forefront of the self-driving car industry.

Up to four interested towns and cities will be selected to participate by allowing manufacturers to test fully self-driven cars on their roadways, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Tuesday.

The program is meant to show the automotive industry that Connecticut is keeping pace with fast-growing, forward-thinking technologies, Malloy said.

“Make no mistake, autonomous vehicles are the future of transportation, whether it is people looking for a safer and easier commute, more efficient and cheaper commercial transit, more precise ride-sharing and for-hire services, or beyond,” he said. “These vehicles are going to be part of our lives soon and we want to take proactive steps to have our state be at the forefront of this innovative technology.”

Several municipalities have already expressed interest, said Chris McClure, a spokesman for the state Office of Policy and Management (OPM), which is overseeing the pilot program. To apply, the local government needs a thought-out plan that includes a location for testing, goals, a public education strategy and whether any testers have been contacted, he said.

The testing can begin as soon as OPM approves a municipality’s application and its agreement with a manufacturer or fleet service provider.

Stamford will likely be the first to cross the finish line, said state Sen. Carlo Leone, who represents the city and co-chairs the legislature’s transportation committee. Leone pushed for the pilot program and says the city is nearly “teed up” to submit its application.

He’s hoping others will follow. No manufacturers have signed on to partner with municipalities, but Leone says Stamford has had discussions with several major players in self-driving tech.

“I think we’ll see some vendors trying to use this as a starting point, at least here in Connecticut,” Leone said.

Though the vehicles tested would be fully capable of driving themselves, they would always have a trained, licensed operator behind the wheel, according to the act that established the pilot program, signed into law in June 2017.

Of the 22 states that have passed laws regulating or relating to self-driving cars, several have already gone far beyond testing with backup drivers. Florida law permits driverless cars on its roads without any human inside, let alone an operator — though a human must be able to control the vehicle remotely. Just this month, California opened up permits to test self-driving cars without backup drivers, something two manufacturers have already applied for, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

In Connecticut, meanwhile, testing with safety drivers will be allowed in limited and controlled areas, not including limited access highways, under the state law.

Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal participated in a road test of a partly self-driving Tesla Model 3 at the Consumer Reports auto test facility in Colchester. The manufacturer of high-end, electric cars didn’t comment on that test, or on the state’s new pilot program.

While Tesla has been a leader in the development of autopilot and autonomous technology, most automakers have pipelines for self-driving cars of their own. In 2017, automakers worldwide spent more than $100 billion on research and development, including $18 billion in the United States, according to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

Leone acknowledged that other states have moved faster to welcome automotive innovation, but said he prefers Connecticut’s cautious approach.

He thinks a slower pace will help prevent the crashes seen in other states that long-ago legalized self-driving cars. In March, the death of a pedestrian struck by a self-driving Uber in Arizona caused the ride-sharing company to pause its self-driving operations.

“Let’s create a public framework first and then let the technology fit into that framework,” Leone said.

OPM will choose at least one municipality that had a population of 120,000 to 124,000 in the 2010 Census — Stamford’s was about 122,000 — and another municipality with a population of at least 100,000.

The secretary of OPM will submit the first progress report on the program to the General Assembly by Jan. 1, 2019, and each year after.

©2018 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.