State Senate to hold hearing on self-driving car laws

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News
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A Michigan Senate committee will hold a public hearing next week on a package of sweeping autonomous vehicle bills that already have the support of several automakers, suppliers and government officials.

The laws, among other things, would allow self-driving cars on any Michigan road without a driver behind the wheel.

The field hearing for the Senate’s Economic Development and International Investment Committee is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday at Nexteer Automotive, 3900 E. Holland, in Buena Vista Township in Saginaw County.

Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, who chairs the committee, said it is working quickly and hopes to vote the package out of committee first, and then the Senate by early September. The bills then would need approval of the House before heading to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk.

“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,” he said.

“We’re on a fast track,” added Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake Township, who introduced the legislation.

The Senate Bills 995-998 would allow for on-demand, ride-sharing autonomous vehicle networks to operated by manufacturers. General Motors Co., a supporter of the legislation, is developing a fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EVs with ride-hailing company Lyft Inc. that will pick up passengers.

The legislation would update Michigan law that passed the Legislature in 2013 that allows for autonomous vehicle testing on state roads. It took effect in March 2014.

Michigan law now requires an operator be in a self-driving car who could take over if necessary. The proposed law would allow an automated driving system to operate as the driver.

Part of the package is focused on cyber security and liability and would allow for mobility research facilities such as the American Center for Mobility. Supporters say the package could serve as a national model.

“The primary goal is to get moving on this technology before we lose it,” Horn said. “We know that Michigan as it recovers needs to keep its momentum. This is a fast-moving train right now and we need to make sure the Big Three are at the front end of this research. That way Michigan is relevant until they stop making cars.”

Pam Fletcher, GM’s executive chief engineer for autonomous integration, will testify. Kowall said he expects representatives from Ford Motor Co., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and companies such as Lyft, Google, Uber Technologies Inc. may attend. Written testimony also will be accepted.

“I’m anticipating a fairly crowded room,” Kowall said.

Horn said Nexteer was chosen to host the committee because of its mobility technology research and development efforts, and because the employer is in his district.

The automotive company supplies steering and driveline systems and advanced driver-assistance systems.

The hearing is scheduled while the Senate is out of session and also is off site.

The committee has met off site at other locations such as Ann Arbors’ MCity test site for self-driving vehicles.

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