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The Michigan economy has long depended on automobile manufacturing and development to drive it forward. Now the state says that the driver may be an autonomous vehicle.
Michigan has been at the heart of the autonomous vehicle movement for quite a while. The University of Michigan houses “MCity” – a realistic urban road environment to test self-driving cars. Willow Run in Ypsilanti, is being converted to a test track running autonomous vehicles alongside M-14.
Now the law is catching up with development. On December 9, 2016, Governor Rick Snyder signed a package of 4 bills that will allow vehicles without a driver, gas pedal, or steering wheel to be tested, certified, and sold to the general public.
“Michigan put the world on wheels and now we are leading the way in transforming the auto industry,” Snyder said. “We are becoming the mobility industry, shaped around technology that makes us more aware and safer as we’re driving. 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 laws pave the way for developers like Google, General Motors, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Lyft, and Uber, which are already hurrying to develop a safe, reliable driverless car.
Autonomous vehicles are already on the roads of Philadelphia, and for a brief moment on Wednesday December 14, they graced the streets of San Francisco as well. Uber has been running autonomous vehicle tests, allowing consumers to hail a ride in an autonomous vehicle with an engineer behind the wheel.
But California regulators quickly called a halt to the San Francisco roll-out. They said the company didn’t have the necessary autonomous vehicle testing permit, so the driverless Ubers quickly disappeared.
Unlike California, the Michigan laws (SB 995, 996, 997, and 998) would allow companies to provide autonomous on-demand autonomous vehicle networks. In other words, Michigan residents could soon be able to hail a driverless taxi.
But one provision in SB 995 has some lawyers worried. The law says:
When engaged, an automated driving system allowing for operation without a human operator shall be considered the driver or operator of a vehicle for purposes of determining conformance to any applicable traffic or motor vehicle laws and shall be deemed to satisfy electronically all physical acts required by a driver or operator of the vehicle.
Personal injury lawyers and product liability attorneys want to know, what happens when a car is its own driver? Who is responsible when that car runs a red light or causes a fatal crash. The debate could stall companies seeking mandatory Michigan no-fault insurance and make it harder for them to take their autonomous vehicles on the road.