Michigan driverless cars

There’s widespread backing for Michigan state legislation that would allow autonomous vehicles on the state’s roads without a backup driver at the wheel. Lawmakers hope the move will put the Big Three automakers at the forefront of autonomous car research.

On Wednesday, a Michigan Senate committee will hold a public hearing on a set of bills that would, among other things, allow autonomous cars on Michigan roads without having to have a driver at the wheel, Melissa Burden writes for The Detroit News.

If the bills become law, Michigan will be the first state to allow testing of driverless vehicles without a human behind the wheel. The bills would be an update to laws that passed in 2013, which permit the testing of self-driving vehicles on Michigan’s roads.

Bipartisan Support

Mike Kowall, the Republican state senator who introduced the legislation, said it has bipartisan support and should pass easily be passed, writes Chris Isidore for CNNMoney.

Kowall noted that there is no federal law prohibiting self-driving cars, but so far, every state (including Michigan) requires a human to be behind the wheel to take over if there is a problem. He said:

I want to make sure we plant the flag here and we maintain the lead in terms of automotive research and development.

In The Detroit News article, he said:

I think the House, the Senate and the governor have a great interest in seeing this mobility initiative move forward so we can capitalize on the momentum for our Big Three automakers. We’re on a fast track.

Carmakers and Research

Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth), chair of the committee, said he thinks the House, Senate, and governor are eager to have this legislation move ahead on self-driving technology “before we lose it.” Michigan needs to keep the momentum going with its recovery, he said. Horn called self-driving technology “a fast-moving train” and said Michigan needs to make sure the Big Three are at the front end of this research. “That way Michigan is relevant until they stop making cars.”

Kowall’s Senate Bills 995-998 are expected to be in the state Senate by early September, and then move to the House, before they’re ready for Michigan’s Gov. Rick Snyder to sign. The bills also would allow manufacturers to operate on-demand ride-sharing networks of self-driving vehicles.

General Motors, which supports the legislation, is working with ride-sharing company Lyft on a fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EVs.

Opinions on Self-Driving Vehicles

In a related news item, Vox reports that a poll it conducted with Morning Consult finds that of the Americans surveyed, there are more concerned about self-driving vehicles than excited about them. Many fear autonomous vehicles will take jobs away from truck and cab drivers. The majority of those polled said they don’t believe self-driving vehicles will cut down on the number of car accidents and save lives.

Another poll question addressed ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft, and found that most Americans do not use such services, finding it easier to drive their own vehicles. Those who have never used a ride-sharing service tend to be in the 65 or older, and are especially skeptical about the safety benefits of autonomous vehicles.

The demographic group most enthusiastic about self-driving vehicles are Millennials, who said in the poll that they would even consider banning human-driven vehicles if autonomous vehicles turn out to be safer.

Also favoring self-driving vehicles are pundits, experts, and elected officials, especially for safety reasons. Car crashes kill nearly 40,000 people a year in the United States. Many of those fatal crashes take place because the drivers are distracted, drowsy, and/or impaired by alcohol and/or drugs.

Image by klotz/123RF.

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