Self driving cars are a hot topic in the automotive world. After Joshua Brown was killed while operating his Tesla Model S in Autopilot mode last May, many groups involved with the automotive industry advised regulators to go slow when approving rules for autonomous driving vehicles. Consumer Reports in particular has called upon Elon Musk and Tesla Motors to stop calling their suite of driver assistance features Autopilot. CR thinks that name suggests to drivers that the system is capable of performing more tasks than it actually can, giving drivers a false sense of security.
Several states — California, Florida, and Texas among them — permit companies to test self driving cars on public roads, provided there is a human driver on board who can take over the controls if necessary. Google has been working for years on a small two passenger electric car with no steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedal. But even California, which is usually out in front on all things dealing with new technology, restricts those cars to private test facilities. The ones that Google operates on public roads must have the a steering wheel and pedals installed.
Last week, Michigan became the first state to allow car companies to sell fully autonomous cars with no steering wheel or pedals for use on its public roads. The legislation was approved by the Michigan senate last September, but took this long to wend its way through the state’s house of representatives and reach governor Rick Snyder’s desk. The legislation was backed by General Motors and Ford, plus Google and ride sharing services Uber and Lyft. “The new laws mean autonomous vehicles can operate on any road in the state, at any time, and by anyone. Or no one,” reports Autoblog.
“By establishing guidelines and standards for self-driving vehicles, we’re continuing that tradition of excellence in a way that protects the public’s safety while at the same time allows the mobility industry to grow without overly burdensome regulations,” Gov. Snyder said.
The package of legislation also approved funding for the American Center for Mobility, a closed research campus where companies can develop and test autonomous driving technology without subjecting the public to undue risk. Michigan is anxious to shift the center of gravity for automotive innovation away from California and Silicon Valley.
Michigan senator Mike Kowall, one of the co-sponsors of the legislation, said the new laws would turn “the eyes of the world once again on Michigan for its engineering and its research. It’s a different kind of car building but car building nonetheless,” according to a report in Crain’s Detroit Business.