Lawmakers send autonomous car bills to Snyder

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Legislature overwhelmingly approved legislation Thursday that paves the way for companies to roll out autonomous cars on Michigan’s roads without drivers as technology companies and others show keen interest in the burgeoning market.

The state House approved the three-bill package with only two lawmakers voting in opposition, Reps. Ray Franz, R-Onekama, and LaTanya Garrett, D-Detroit. The Senate then promptly gave final legislative approval to the package and sent it to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk Thursday.

Snyder has hailed the growing “mobility” market as the future of the auto industry and appears likely to sign the legislation.

The governor has praised companies developing autonomous cars as being at the forefront of a new technological movement and has said aiding that new industry is central to securing Michigan’s legacy as auto capital of the nation.

Snyder has said driverless-car testing and operations are crucial for helping Michigan keep its economic edge.

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.

The package of three bills aims to keep Michigan ahead of competing states, such as California and Florida, that are trying to lure companies and investments with autonomous car-friendly laws.

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 had to be at the ready.

The proposals also would allow ride-sharing services without drivers to be operated by auto manufacturers or ride-hailing services such as Lyft or Uber.

General Motors Co., which has supported the legislation, is working to develop a fleet of autonomous Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles with its partner Lyft that it sees could be deployed for ride-hailing in the future within certain geographic boundaries.

GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said Thursday the legislation will allow GM to accelerate developing self-driving technology.

“It allows us to move faster,” Barra said. “And being that this is our home ... to be able to do that work here and to be in a leadership role in setting a template for the rest of the country, I think would be outstanding.”

One bill would allow for the decommissioning of small stretches of public road to be used privately for vehicle testing as part of the proposed American Center for Mobility test site at Willow Run. A ground-breaking for the center is slated for later this month.

The state Senate approved the legislation in September following its prior approval of previous versions of the legislation.

Google Inc. was in part responsible for the latest versions after the company came to lawmakers with concerns that the original bills would have prevented it from operating autonomous vehicles in the state. Legislators said it was not their intent.

The substitute versions of the legislation changed some technical language to ensure other companies like Google are allowed to operate them.

Companies would need to comply with federal motor vehicle safety standards, meet certain testing requirements and have insurance above a certain threshold under the legislation, which has the support of major automakers, suppliers and Snyder.

Staff writer Melissa Burden contributed.