Snyder wants Michigan to be leader for emerging automated technology

Posted on February 19, 2013

Sometime soon, that person in the car next to you may not actually be doing the driving. That’s because bipartisan legislation on a fast-track through the Michigan statehouse would allow testing of self-driving cars on public roads

In his State of the State address last month, Gov. Rick Snyder called for Michigan to join California, Florida and Nevada in allowing self-driving vehicle research on the state’s streets and highways. The Senate Transportation Committee had a hearing last week on a bill that would allow just that. It plans another hearing next week, with a vote planned before the end of February.

State Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, introduced the legislation Feb. 7. “My measure would help ensure that research and development expenditures and taxes related to automated vehicles stay in Michigan,” he said.

Kowall said auto supplier Continental, which has been working on autonomous vehicle research, had considered moving some testing from its facility in the Upper Peninsula to Nevada. But Kowall said he assured Continental the state was moving fast to change laws that would allow the company to do testing here.

Last week, Google Inc., which has done extensive testing of autonomous vehicles in other states, testified at a standing-room only hearing of the Senate Transportation Committee. General Motors Co. will testify Tuesday. GM and other automakers want assurances that they don’t face liability if Google or another company modifies one of their vehicles to operate autonomously.

The Michigan bill would require a driver to be in the driver’s seat at all times during testing to take over in the case of emergency. Other states also have required this.

Under the law, a manufacturer license plate would include an “M” designation. The measure would permit manufacturers and suppliers to use the M plate for automated vehicle testing. “Upfitters” of automated vehicle technology, such as Google, would be included.

Snyder noted in his address that that Google has logged more than 300,000 miles on U.S. roads with self-driving cars. He said the nation eventually is “going to have vehicles that may not even have people in them. I am not suggesting that now, so don’t get nervous, but California, Florida and Nevada have already passed legislation on autonomous vehicles. They’re ahead of us, and aren’t we the automotive capital of the world?”

Kowall said the committee is moving fast. “We’re going to make some adjustments to satisfy Google and GM’s concerns,” Kowall said. He called the bill a “bipartisan measure with no politics involved.”

To support his legislation, Kowall cited data from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation that shows Michigan has more than 330 companies engaging in automotive research and development, spending more than $11 billion annually.

Michigan Transportation Department Director Kirk Steudle supports the research here: “Automated vehicles will make our roads safer and our vehicles more fuel efficient. The trucking industry estimates up to a 20 percent fuel savings when the accelerator is controlled with automation.”

Automakers already offer safety systems that are stepping stones to fully self-driving cars: lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist systems, blind-spot warnings, forward-collision warning and prevention, and adaptive cruise control that keeps a car moving with traffic flow.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in October it was preparing regulations setting performance standards for fully autonomous cars — the next “evolutionary step” for the nation’s fleet of vehicles.

NHTSA said it has had “numerous” talks with Google and other companies about the technology. Google has predicted the vehicles could be available to consumers within a decade.

NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said driverless cars could be a “game changer,” allowing the blind and senior citizens who can no longer drive safely to use cars for personal mobility. The vehicles could also have other benefits, including cutting some of the $100 billion in annual congestion costs and reducing fuel use, he said. He hopes the technology could one day save “thousands of lives.”

But NHTSA needs to make sure such vehicles are effective and reliable — and that consumers will have confidence in them and their features, including ensuring security of software to make sure hackers can’t interfere with a driverless vehicle.
David Shepardson, Detroit News.