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Bills Seek to Advance Autonomous Vehicle Tech in Mich.

May 27, 2016

A Ford autonomous vehicle navigates snowy roads during a Michigan winter storm. Photo courtesy of Ford.
A Ford autonomous vehicle navigates snowy roads during a Michigan winter storm. Photo courtesy of Ford.

Michigan state senators have introduced a package of four bills aimed at making the state a leader in autonomous vehicle testing and development.

In contrast to California law, the legislation would establish guidelines for the legal operation of self-driving vehicles on public roads without the presence of a human driver behind the wheel. Supporters of the legislation hope this difference will provide the state with a competitive edge.

Also permitted under Senate Bill 995 would be vehicle platoons and on-demand automated fleet networks. Further, the bill would create the Michigan Council on Future Mobility — a group dedicated to keeping the state at the forefront of mobility technology.

“Advances in autonomous technology will allow Michigan drivers and their passengers to be safer on the road,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall (R-White Lake), who introduced two of the bills. “In addition, a robust and free environment for testing and development will ensure the Michigan economy benefits from this new technology and changes in mobility.”

Michigan State Senator Mike Kowall, who sponsored two of the bills.
Michigan State Senator Mike Kowall, who sponsored two of the bills.

Google this week announced plans to open a self-driving test center in Novi, Mich. — a move that Kowall called "very exciting news for the 15th Senate District and all of Michigan."

Senate Bill 996 would establish standards for on-demand vehicle networks, and also spell out requirements for data collection that will help researchers further refine the technology.

Sponsored by Senator Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor), Senate Bill 997 would create the American Center for Mobility at the old Willow Run factory site. The center is expected to play a vital role in research and education on autonomous vehicle technology.

Senate Bill 998, sponsored by Senator Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth), would extend the liability protection in current law — which shields manufacturers from liability when an unauthorized person attempts to modify autonomous technology — to licensed mechanics who follow manufacturer specifications.

To secure a leadership position in autonomous vehicle technology, Michigan must make certain its regulations don’t lag behind and hinder progress, Kowall said. Michigan’s current law regulating autonomous vehicles went into effect in March 2014.

“The law is becoming more outdated day by day as technology advances and other states seek the new automotive industry for themselves,” Kowall said in a released statement. “Michigan’s dominance in auto research and development is under attack from several states and countries who desire to supplant our leadership in transportation. We can’t let that happen.”

More importantly, Kowall added, is that the legislation package seeks to promote road safety. A total of 94% of traffic accidents are caused by human error, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The four bills have been referred to the Senate Committee on Economic Development and International Investment

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