Snyder signs new Michigan self-driving vehicles law

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Dearborn — Gov. Rick Snyder on Friday signed legislation that aims to put Michigan in the driver’s seat for autonomous technology, testing and deployment for self-driving cars. Proponents say the laws are important for the state’s economic development and talent retention.

And state leaders say the result should include more autonomous vehicles taking to Michigan roadways and quickening development of the technology they say will make roads safer and cut down on accidents.

Snyder chose the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn to sign the significant package of bills that will allow the public to buy and use fully self-driving cars when they are available. 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.

“I’m excited to sign this bill,” Snyder said. “In my heart I view this as a portal opening for safety, for opportunity for more economic success. We should be proud we’re leading the world, right here in Michigan.”

The legislation updates a 2013 law that has allowed testing of autonomous vehicles in Michigan, though with a driver behind the wheel. It puts Michigan ahead of other states.

The package of four bills (Senate Bill 995-998) landed on Snyder’s desk late last month after passing through the House and Senate with near unanimous support. The main bill allows self-driving vehicles to operate on any Michigan roadway. It allows automated platoons of trucks to travel together at set speeds. And it allows networks of self-driving cars that can pick up passengers on demand.

It also creates the Michigan Council on Future Mobility to make recommendations on statewide policy to keep Michigan ahead of the game.

Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake Township, who introduced Senate Bill 995, said autonomous and connected vehicles and technology could have helped avoid the Thursday pileup on Interstate 96 that left three dead.

He said the legislation signed into law Friday will allow automakers, engineers and researchers to do what they do best. “We’re getting government out of the way, we’re letting industry grow at its own rate,” Kowall said.

Snyder told reporters that the law will help open up Michigan to more autonomous vehicle development. “It’s not about racing on legislation, but it’s about having good, smart legislation that’s about safety first and then creating an environment for innovation,” he said.

Automakers are encouraged by the law that gives Michigan the broadest set of regulations. GM, which voiced strong support for the legislation, would not say Friday if it now plans to test autonomous vehicles in Michigan. But Pam Fletcher, GM’s executive chief engineer of global electric and autonomous vehicles, said the law “positions Michigan very, very well.”

Ford has said it plans to deploy a fully autonomous vehicle without a steering wheel or pedals in 2021 for ride-sharing or ride-hailing purposes. Ford wants to sell 100,000 or more a year of the vehicles.

“Without this, we wouldn’t be able to enable it here in Michigan,” said Wayne Bahr, global director of Ford Motor Co.’s automotive safety office. “Our headquarters is here, research is here, autonomous vehicle team is here and having the ability to do our testing in a four season environment and to do it right next to where our engineers are is absolutely phenomenal.”

State competition

GM also is working with partner Lyft Inc. to develop a fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EVs that it would use for ride-hailing. While it is testing autonomous Bolts in California and Arizona now, it hopes to test with Lyft’s service within a couple of years on public roadways.

“We believe an orderly and safe introduction of autonomous vehicles is a key to success for public acceptance and really maximizing the benefit of these vehicles,” Fletcher said, adding part of the legislation for deploying self-driving ride-hailing services without a driver is “the way we think this kind of technology needs to roll out.”

Michigan is one of eight states along with Washington, D.C., that have laws allowing testing of autonomous cars, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. California, Florida and Nevada have laws that allow for the “operation” beyond testing. Arizona and Massachusetts’ governors signed executive orders related to self-driving vehicles.

Federal discrepancy

The bills were amended to allow tech companies such as Google Inc. to test and ultimately operate self-driving vehicles without drivers on state roadways.

The Michigan law differs and is separate from autonomous car guidelines federal officials released in September. The Vehicle Performance Guidance for Automated Vehicles are considered best practices for safe design, development and testing of automated vehicles before they go on sale or operate on public roadways.

“If you think about what this legislation does, we now have 122,000 miles of a test bed, 122,000 miles of road in the state of Michigan are open for complete operations,” said Kirk Steudle, Michigan Department of Transportation director.

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