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Senate committee sends autonomous car bills for a vote

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Saginaw County — A state Senate committee on Wednesday brought a series of bills that would allow driverless cars on Michigan roadways closer to reality.

The Senate’s Economic Development and International Investment Committee unanimously moved the package of bills out of committee and on to the Senate floor for a vote as early as next week. Before the Wednesday vote, the seven-person committee took public testimony from automakers and suppliers at Nexteer’s global technical center in Saginaw.

All the speakers during the hour-and-a-half-long hearing were overwhelmingly supportive of the legislation.

“This is the place that put the world on wheels,” Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle said. “We need to be the place that redefines how mobility happens.”

The Senate Bills 995-998 would allow for widespread implementation of driverless cars on Michigan roadways. Current law allows for testing of autonomous vehicles, but this package would allow the public to buy and use fully driverless cars whenever they’re available. It would also allow an autonomous vehicle, without a steering wheel or pedals, to serve as the driver and not require a human to take over.

It would also allow for on-demand, ride-sharing autonomous vehicle networks to be operated by auto manufacturers, something that General Motors Co. is particularly interested in given its investment in ride-hailing service Lyft.

“We believe that Senate Bill 996, along with its sister bills Senate Bill 995, 997 and 998, make up a package of legislation that provides Michigan with the opportunity to be at the forefront of the next major transition in the automotive industry and, importantly, could serve as a national model for other states to emulate,” Pam Fletcher, GM’s executive chief engineer for electrified vehicles and autonomous integration, told the committee. “This is the birthplace of the industry and Michigan has always been a leader in automobile innovation. General Motors is committed to this state and we are committed to redefining the future of transportation right here in Michigan. This package of bills is a game-changer.”

Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake Township, who introduced the legislation, stressed to the committee that the proposed bills would help keep Michigan ahead of competition from other states like California and countries like Singapore, Germany and the U.K.

“This is going to solidly plant the flag for Michigan saying we are the automobile capital of the world, we are the research and development center in the world,” he said.

Earlier this week, California lawmakers revised a bill to allow testing of autonomous vehicles without a steering wheel, brake pedal or accelerator.

This is a wrestling match,” Steudle said. “We should be the leaders going forward.”

Ford Motor Co. also testified in support of the bills,

“Passage of this bill will keep Michigan at the forefront of AV development and use,” said Emily Frascaroli, who serves as counsel for Ford.

The Dearborn automaker earlier this month announced it would implement a fully autonomous car without a driving wheel or pedals for commercial use in 2021.

Luis Canales, executive director of global corporate affairs for Nexteer, said the bills would help drive economic development in the state.

“The legislation you are considering today will lay down a framework for autonomous vehicles that will enable industry partners, like Nexteer, to accelerate product development and time to market right here in our state of Michigan,” he said.

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