Be on the Lookout for Autonomous Cars gone Rogue in Michigan
Will new bills in Michigan help the development of self-driving cars?by Kirby Garlitos, on
Proving that it takes its long and rich ties to the automotive industry seriously, the state of Michigan has become the most lenient and supportive state in the U.S. to test autonomous vehicle technology. Michigan governor Rick Snyder signed four separate bills, each supporting specific elements of developing autonomous driving technology, including allowing automakers and tech companies involved in the development of the tech to operate self-driving cars on the state’s public roads, even without a human driver inside the cars. In addition, the legislation also gives Michigan the distinction of becoming the first state in the U.S. to allow companies to begin testing self-driving cars that have no steering wheel or pedals.
The signing of the legislature took place at the Automotive Hall of Fame Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. It’s an appropriate place to do it, largely because of the significance of the event in shaping the future of the auto industry. Governor Snyder himself seemed to understand the magnitude of signing the legislation, calling it an important moment for the state to once again “lead the way in transforming the auto industry.”
"We are becoming the mobility industry, shaped around technology that makes us more aware and safer as we’re driving," the governor added. "By recognizing that and aligning our state’s policies as new technology is developed, we will continue as the leader the rest of the world sees as its biggest competition."
The four legislations are formally referred to as “SB 995, SB 996, SB 997, and SB 998.” Each legislation specifically outlines regulations that allows auto and tech companies to freely test their vehicles across the state while also being allowed to operate self-driving ride-sharing services.
SB 995 (now called PA 332 of 2016), for instance, now allows operations of autonomous vehicles on Michigan roads, a major step up from previous regulations wherein only testing of these vehicles by auto companies was allowed. The legislation also allows “automated vehicle platoons,” a testing method by which vehicles travel together at electronically coordinated speeds. Swedish automaker Volvo has already done testing of this sort all the back in 2012, referring to it as a semi-autonomous road train technology.
Other items featured in the legislation include allowing on-demand, autonomous ride-sharing services and the creation of the Michigan Council of Future Mobility, a new arm under the Michigan Department of Transportation.
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An important milestone in the pursuit of autonomous driving technology
I’m aware that Governor Rick Snyder doesn’t have the most glowing of reputations among citizens of Michigan and the initial reaction among residents, at least based on some comments I’ve read and heard, is unfavourable towards these regulations.
I don’t live in the state so I can’t comment on what frustrations people over there may for Governor Snyder. I do, however, understand the significance of these legislations, particularly in creating an open environment for automakers and tech companies to develop autonomous driving technology that places importance on enhancing its safety, above all else. That is what these tests are going to be all about anyway and it should be noted that the legislations enacted address some of those issues.
For example, SB 996 (now called PA 333) outlines specific parameters for entities, be it automakers or ridesharing services, to offer on-demand autonomous vehicle networks to the public. There are of course some requirements that need to be met before these services can be offered, but the important thing is that legislation is now in place to help these companies get from Point A to Point B in the event they want to pursue such a service.
Two other legislations were also signed by the governor, including SB 997 (PA 334), which recognizes the American Center for Mobility at Willow Run as as a state-of-the-art center for testing, education, and product development for connected and automated vehicles and SB 998 (PA 335), which exempts mechanics from any liabilities involving damages to vehicles that result from repairs on the grounds that the repairs were made in accordance to specifications set out by manufacturers.
The signing of these legislations is a huge victory for automakers and tech companies looking to find an open place to conduct their testing of autonomous driving technology without having to acquiesce to strict regulations. It’s not surprising that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford, General Motors, and Toyota all voiced their support of the legislation, as did tech outfits Google, Uber, and Lyft.
It’ll be interesting how Michigan’s acceptance of open testing for self-driving cars will affect other states, but that in itself is a separate conversation for another day. What’s important is that the state has opened its arms for companies to do their testing there and that could play a pivotal role in shaping the future of autonomous driving technology in the country.