Snyder to sign autonomous car bills into law

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Ypsilanti Township — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder will sign a package of autonomous vehicle bills into law as early as next week.

The second-term Republican, who recently returned from a trade mission to China, said he plans to sign the bills “relatively soon,” adding it would be in the next week or so.

“I’m looking forward to that cause that helps establish this, but also sets a framework to do more testing in Michigan,” Snyder said Monday during a ceremonial groundbreaking for the American Center for Mobility, a 335-acre testing site for driverless and connected vehicles that is expected to open in December 2017.

Groundbreaking for the American Center for Mobility on the grounds of the historic Willow Run plant in Ypsilanti on Nov. 21, 2016.

The bills, Snyder said, have been going through the normal review process without any “snags” since being sent to his desk from the Legislature earlier this month.

The three-bill package sped through both the House and Senate with almost unanimous support.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, on Monday said he wasn’t surprised by the overwhelming support for the bills.

“When man was first cooking their food around and they invented fire, some people ran away because they were afraid of it,” said Kowall, who introduced the bills earlier this year. “The other ones stood around and the meat got cooked.”

The proposed laws would allow the public to buy and use fully driverless cars whenever they are available. Autonomous vehicles currently can only be driven in Michigan for test purposes, and a driver must be at-the-ready. The laws also would allow ride-sharing services without drivers to be operated by auto manufacturers or by ride-hailing services such as Lyft or Uber.

The legislation has the support of major automakers and suppliers, many House lawmakers and Snyder, who has said driverless-car testing and operations are crucial for helping Michigan keep its economic edge and remain the automotive capital of the world after years of economic hardship.

They are meant to be open to adjustment to changing technologies and situations.

“We’re not going to take our eye off that ball,” Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth. “As technologies change ... we want to be able to move at the speed of business at this point, when it comes to these. We’re going to follow up with other bills for the social ramifications of autonomous vehicles.”

Those “ramifications” revolve around liabilities involving accidents as well as how to adapt to current laws, including restrictions around texting and blood-alcohol levels, when the vehicle is driving itself.

Michigan is one of eight states that, along with Washington, D.C., have laws allowing testing of autonomous cars, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. California, Florida and Nevada have laws allowing for the “operation” of those cars beyond testing. Arizona’s governor signed an executive order.

State laws are separate from an unprecedented set of autonomous car guidelines released by federal officials in September. The guidelines — known as the Vehicle Performance Guidance for Automated Vehicles — are meant to outline best practices for the safe design, development and testing of automated vehicles prior to commercial sale or operation on public roads.

Federal officials suggested policy areas for states to consider with the goal of generating symmetry among the states for the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles, which officials believe the state can be a leader considering its automotive history and sites such as the American Center for Mobility.

The new facility is being constructed on the grounds of the historic Willow Run bomber plant by Ford Motor Co. that was later used by General Motors Co. as a powertrain plant.

“I think this is going to help Michigan a lot,” Kowall said. “We have companies already from all of the world that are interested in creating a presence here. We’re going to see activity on this site that we haven’t seen in years.”

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Twitter: @MikeWayland