It appears that the State of Michigan is ready to dive into the world of self-driving vehicles. The U.S. auto capital is making preparations for the arrival of autonomous cars by passing legislation to allow for public sales and operation. Currently there are existing state laws that only allows testing on these types of cars.
A package of bipartisan bills which would update 2013 laws to allow for sales and operation are in the works, the Detroit Free Press reports. Furthermore, Detroit based auto companies General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, and Ford would be authorized to run networks of on-demand self-driving vehicles. This piece of legislation is an effort from both the government and auto companies to reinvent themselves as “mobility companies”. Earlier this year, GM invested $500 million in Lyft and bought a start-up company that creates software for autonomous vehicles.
“It’s coming. It’s coming fast. The technology is at a point where it will be incorporated into something that is mass-produced,” Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Director Kirk Steudle said. Michigan is not alone in having laws on the books related to self-driving vehicles. Nevada became the first state to authorize self-driving vehicles in 2011, and California, Florida, North Dakota, Tennessee and Utah followed suit.
Testing of self-driving vehicles is getting closer to home as well. In July, a convoy of self-driving Army trucks were tested along a stretch of Interstate 69 in Michigan’s “Thumb” region. To follow Michigan state law, someone will be required to be at the wheel at all times as a precaution. MDOT has been working closely with state legislators to develop the bills, which the state’s economic development officials are supportive of. “I see the autonomous vehicles being tested on the road every day. It’s weird, but it’s what’s going to move the auto industry into the (next century),” Senator Mike Kowall, the lead sponsor of the proposed bill said. Governor Rick Snyder is also “very supportive” of the proposal, according to a spokesman.
Not everyone is 100% on board with the proposal which will begin to be considered for adoption later this summer. Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court is concerned that the auto companies are moving too fast and the necessary safety measures aren’t being put in place. “It’s foolhardy to rush into this without a plan just because it seems to be a way to stimulate jobs,” Court argued. Court also believes that there is a long way to go because “robots and humans don’t communicate.”
One of the Michigan bills that is being debated would end the requirement for a driver to be behind the wheel at all times, and another would provide funding to build a facility which would allow for testing of autonomous and wirelessly connected cars. The proposed facility would be located at the site of an abandoned GM plant that once produced World War II bombers.
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