Florida Takes Brakes Off Driverless Tech

Burney Simpson

The Florida legislature just shifted the state into high gear in its effort to expand the testing of autonomous vehicles.

The Sunshine State enacted a transportation bill that allows someone with a valid drivers’ license to drive an autonomous vehicle on public roads; gave autonomous vehicles some leeway in the equipment they can use; set in motion a truck platooning test; and required metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to consider autonomous technology when writing long-range transportation plans.

The legislation takes effect on July 1.

The bill included eight provisions related to autonomous vehicle technology. (A summary by the Florida Senate of the bill’s “changes specific to the operation and regulation of autonomous vehicles” is pasted below).

The biggest step is giving licensed drivers the freedom to operate autonomous vehicles, and clarifying some rules on testing.

Another part gives autonomous vehicle operators the right to install video screens near the driver, and to use other equipment so they can monitor the vehicles performance. The provision bans related equipment from standard vehicles.

A provision requiring MPOs to include advances in driving technology in their 20-year plans could become influential. Many planners complain that cities aren’t getting ready for the possible revolution in transportation that driverless vehicles may bring.

The platooning portion doesn’t make platooning legal but waives for testing purposes some current rules on the following distance that trucks are allowed, according to Ken Armstrong, president and CEO of the Florida Trucking Association.

Armstrong says his organization is supportive of autonomous vehicles but not necessarily driverless vehicles.

“If this can save money, and save hours of service — there are a lot of reasons to support it,” said Armstrong.

STATE COMPETITION

The new law puts Florida in the thick of state competition for autonomous and connected vehicle testing dollars from auto OEMs, Tier 1 auto suppliers, and others.

Florida state Sen. Jeff Brandes, who crafted sections of the bill related to autonomous vehicles, told the Orlando Sentinel that he worked “with partners at Audi and Google – the original equipment manufacturers” on the legislation.

Florida, California, Michigan, Nevada, and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation allowing for testing of autonomous vehicles on their public roads, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Virginia and Arizona later joined this club through executive actions by their governors. North Dakota and Utah have approved studies of autonomous vehicles.

The Tennessee legislature recently passed a bill from state Sen. Mark Green that could lead to the operation of autonomous vehicles on its roads as soon as next January. However, that proposal awaits the governor’s signature.

Tampa, along with the state of Wyoming and New York City, is part of a U.S. Department of Transportation test of connected vehicles. The Tampa portion focuses on implementing connected technology on a local freeway and its possible impact on commuters.

The Florida Senate’s legislative tracking service provided this summation of the transportation bill’s provisions on autonomous vehicles:

  • Clarifying that the authorization for a person holding a valid driver license to operate an autonomous vehicle applies on the public roads of this state.
  • Revising provisions regarding the operation of autonomous vehicles on roads for testing purposes.
  • Revising equipment requirements for autonomous vehicles, requiring a system to alert an operator of a technology failure and to take control, or to stop the vehicle under certain conditions.
  • Prohibiting operation of a motor vehicle on the highways of this state while the vehicle is in motion if the vehicle is actively displaying moving television broadcast or pre-recorded video entertainment content visible from the driver’s seat, unless the vehicle is equipped with autonomous technology and is being operated in autonomous mode.
  • Providing that an electronic display used by an operator of a vehicle equipped with autonomous technology or by an operator of a vehicle equipped with driver-assistive truck platooning technology is not prohibited.
  • Defining the term “driver-assistive truck platooning technology;” requiring the FDOT to study, in consultation with the FDHSMV, the use and safe operation of driver assistive truck platooning technology; and authorizing a pilot project to test vehicles equipped with such technology.
  • Requiring manufacturers of such technology to provide insurance before the start of the pilot project and requiring the FDOT, in consultation with the FDHSMV, to report the results of the study and any findings or recommendations from the pilot project.
  • Requiring metropolitan planning organizations to accommodate advances in vehicle technology when developing long-range transportation plans and requiring the FDOT to accommodate advances in vehicle technology when updating the Strategic Intermodal System Plan.

Photo of Beach Hop by Floyd Wilde.

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  1. […] The Sunshine State enacted a transportation bill that allows someone with a valid drivers’ license to drive an autonomous vehicle on public roads; gave autonomous vehicles some leeway in the equipment they can use; set in motion a truck platooning test; and required metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to consider autonomous technology when writing long-range transportation plans. READ MORE […]

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