TRENTON — There's been an annual average of 583 deaths on New Jersey's roadways over the past 10 years. Is it possible that nearly all these lives could have been saved if humans weren't at the wheel?

State lawmakers on Monday listened to hours of testimony on the development and regulation of autonomous vehicles. Afterwards, they advanced a measure establishing a task force that would conduct a study of these smarter vehicles, and make recommendations on laws related to their eventual usage in the Garden State.

"The excitement behind this technology is enormous, and I think it's up to us to ensure that we put together smart public policy," said Andrew Zwicker, chair of the Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, which teamed up with the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee for the hearing.

Advocates for the technology who attended the hearing pushed for a clear path to begin testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles on New Jersey's roads. They also urged lawmakers to avoid being burdensome with regulations related to the industry.

"Getting more automated driving technologies on our roadways is the single most important factor to improving long-term roadway safety," said Wayne Weikel with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. "Think about all this Legislature has done to curb drunk driving; the deployment of automated vehicle technologies will severely minimize that problem."

In 2017, 624 people lost their lives on New Jersey's roads. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Ninety four percent of roadway accidents are caused by human error.

Josh Fisher with the Association of Global Automakers said automated and connected technologies offer New Jersey the ability to significantly reduce traffic fatalities, and are more environmentally-friendly than most vehicles on the road today.

"States must play a critical role in the acceleration of these lifesaving benefits," Fisher said. "This is best done by limiting regulatory barriers to innovation."

The joint committees also discussed, but did not act on, bills that would permit the testing and use of autonomous vehicles on state roadways under certain circumstances; direct the Motor Vehicle Commission to establish driver's license endorsements for autonomous vehicles; and establish a pilot program for fully autonomous vehicles.

Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, said the introduction of autonomous vehicles will likely succeed under a system of fleet operators, such as ride-sharing companies. He said the shift may "disrupt the mass transit system" as well, but not cause a large ripple in the market of privately-owned cars and trucks.

"I don't see autonomous vehicles as a dominant force in the marketplace or even a major disruptor of the personal motor vehicle market," Appleton said.