Autonomous vehicle legislation clears Senate committee

LANSING, Mich. — The Senate Committee on Economic Development and International Investment on Wednesday approved a package of bills aimed at modernizing guidelines for driverless vehicle research and operation within state law.

Senate Bills 995-998 would update Michigan’s current laws regarding autonomous vehicle testing to allow “real world” testing and operation to determine the technology needed to safely introduce these vehicles into the marketplace.

“Michigan, for much of its history, has been known throughout the world as the home of the automobile, and it is only appropriate that we continue to be a pioneer in the industry,” said Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, who chairs the committee and was the sponsor of SB 998. “Data shows that more than 90 percent of auto accidents are caused because of human error. If we can remain an integral part of the development of technology to reduce these errors, I think it will be a great move for our state.”

The bills go on to specify that as technology emerges, companies will be able to operate a driverless vehicle on public roads so long as an operator is able to supervise and control the vehicle. The legislation also establishes standards that these vehicles must adhere to. These include requirements for data collection and feedback from crashes from autonomous vehicles that are members of a fleet so that information can be used to further advance the technology and ensure that they are safe for consumer use.

Additionally, the bills authorize the creation of the American Center for Mobility at the abandoned Willow Run facility. The repurposed 300-acre lot is expected to serve a vital role in Michigan’s research and development surrounding autonomous vehicles. The redevelopment is expected to be a boost for the economies of surrounding communities.

Leading technology and ridesharing companies are working with Michigan’s Big Three and other automakers to develop driverless technology. Seven other states along with Washington D.C. have a policy or have introduced a policy regarding autonomous vehicles, and the widespread message across the Senate panel as well as those who came to testify was that Michigan must remain a leader in the industry.

State Sen. Mike Kowall, sponsor of SBs 995 and 996, has remained at the forefront of legislative efforts pertaining to autonomous vehicles for some time. Kowall added that Michigan is on a fast track to get these bills passed and remain competitive with the rest of the nation.

“This legislation will help ensure Michigan remains the worldwide leader in automotive research and development,” said Kowall, R-White Lake. “We have sent a strong signal today that we are ready to partner with the companies that are producing this remarkable technology.”

Horn agreed.

“I believe we are making great technological and economic strides for our state while keeping drivers and their passengers safe on the road,” Horn said. “I want to thank the other bill sponsors, the members of this committee and those who came to testify for coming to my district — and a special thanks to Nexteer Automotive for hosting this special hearing here in our community.”

SBs 995-998 were approved by the committee with bipartisan support and will now go before the full Senate for consideration.