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Michigan approves cars without drivers or steering wheels on its roads

Lucas Mearian | Dec. 12, 2016
The state also approved of platooning, or convoys of autonomous vehicles

The governor of Michigan today signed into law a series of bills that allows fully autonomous vehicles, including those without drivers and steering wheels, to begin using public roadways.

Flanked by a Ford Model T and a self-driving Ford Fusion, Gov. Rick Snyder signed four bills as part of the autonomous vehicles legislative package that allows the operation of autonomous vehicles on Michigan public roads. Before, only testing of the vehicles by manufacturers was permitted.

"As far as I know, Michigan is the first state to make it official that these types of vehicles can be used on public roads," said Brandon Schoettle, a project manager with the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute.

"California is also planning to enact similar legislation soon. Obviously, the general act of vehicles driving around like this on any public roads is somewhat unprecedented anywhere, given the very recent introduction of such technology," Schoettle said.

connected cars autonomous vehicles 

Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) electronic communications technology is helping to advance autonomous vehicles.

Earlier this year, Pittsburgh began allowing real-world tests of a self-driving, Uber-owned Ford Fusion.

Several states and Washington D.C. have passed autonomous vehicle legislation that allows for testing of the cars and trucks on public roadways. Since 2012, at least 34 states and D.C. have considered legislation related to autonomous vehicles.

In September, the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued guidelines for autonomous vehicles that included a checklist for carmakers  developing the technology, as well as guidelines for states on creating a common framework for regulating self-driving cars and trucks.

“I believe regulation is now the biggest obstacle to the introduction of autonomous vehicles -- even more than cost or technology. The only other competing factor is societal acceptance, which will relate to the laws in the end," said PricewaterhouseCoopers’ research analyst Andy Schmahl.

A news release from Snyder's office said the new laws will ensure "Michigan continues to be the world leader in autonomous, driverless and connected vehicle technology.

"Michigan put the world on wheels and now we are leading the way in transforming the auto industry," Snyder said in the statement. "We are becoming the mobility industry, shaped around technology that makes us more aware and safer as we're driving. By recognizing that and aligning our state's policies as new technology is developed, we will continue as the leader the rest of the world sees as its biggest competition."

At the bill signing, Snyder was joined by a primary bill sponsor, Sen. Mike Kowall, and executives from Ford and GM.


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