Michigan Races to Open State to Automated Driving Systems

Burney Simpson

Michigan is seeking to stay ahead of the driverless competition with a bipartisan group of state legislators introducing bills that would allow auto OEMs to operate vehicles with automated driving systems on its roads.

A second proposal would allow for platooning of automated vehicles, where a group of two or more commercial trucks communicate wirelessly with each other to better move in tandem. The trucks typically are closely aligned, reducing drag and typically garnering better fuel economy.

The lead sponsor on each bill is state Sen. Mike Kowall, a Republican from White Lake. Kowall is the Senate’s Majority Floor Leader. Each bill has a number of co-sponsors.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the bills were crafted with the Michigan Department of Transportation and have the blessing of Gov. Rick Snyder.

Plans to open up Michigan roads to greater testing and operation of self-driving vehicles was driven by Florida recently loosening its regulations on the technology (See “Michigan Might Match Florida’s Driverless Rules”).

In April Florida allowed anyone with a driver’s license to operate an autonomous vehicle in the state.

Legislatures in California, Massachusetts, Tennessee and other states introduced bills in their spring sessions that opened their roads to autonomous vehicles for testing and other purposes.

Under one of the new Michigan proposals, S-996, the driver of the automated vehicle is an “automated driving system or any remote expert-controlled assist activity shall be considered the driver or operator of the vehicle.”

The bill language limits the operation of the automated vehicle to “a designated area within a municipality”; an “area maintained by a regional authority”; a university campus; a senior citizen campus; or any “geographic or demographic area that is similar” to those.

A second bill (S-995) creates certain definitions for “automated driving systems” and allows for platooning of commercial trucks on any road in the state.

The bill permits a company to operate the vehicle without a human driver, as long as an employee or contractor can monitor that driverless vehicle and take control of it as necessary.

The bill also creates the “Michigan Council on Future Mobility” that will make recommendations on state driverless policy by the end of March, 2017. The Council will continue to work on mobility issues and make recommendations on policy.

The Council will include 11 representatives named by the governor from the fields of business, technology, policy, and research. The Council will also include two state senators and two state representatives from each party.

The Secretary of State, the State Police and the state DOT will also be represented on the Council.

Both S-995 and S-996 put the liability for any accident on the shoulders of the manufacturer of the automated vehicle. However, that liability is removed if the vehicle has been modified in any way.