LANSING, MI — Self-driving vehicles may be coming to a road near you. And sooner than you think.
State Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is sponsoring a bill that would allow automotive companies and related suppliers to test autonomous vehicles on Michigan roads, provided they are occupied by a human and are outfitted with a manufacturer license plate.
California, Nevada and Florida already have similar laws on the books, according to MDOT Director Kirk Steudle, who said that Michigan companies are spending an estimated $120,000 per automated vehicle to test their new technology in those states.
"It seems absolutely crazy that we should put that burden on suppliers and manufacturers," Steudle said today during testimony before the Senate Transportation Committee. "They're here, and they should be able to do that testing right here in Michigan."
Senate Bill 169 would allow suppliers and startups to apply for manufacturer plates in order test self-driving vehicles, but it would explicitly prohibit automated driving in all other circumstances.
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Kowall wrote the bill after consulting with Detroit automakers, who are each developing their own autonomous technology, and Continental, a German-based company with its U.S. headquarters in Auburn Hills that recently retrofitted a Volkswagen Passat with autonomous technology and completed a two-week endurance test in Nevada.
Kowall also worked with Google, the California-based technology giant, which has logged more than 400,000 miles in that state as it tests its own fleet of self-driving vehicles. Public Policy Manager Leslie Miller flew in for today's committee hearing, outlining what Google would like to see in any autonomous vehicle bill and discussing the general need for such legislation.
"We believe this technology is only years away, not decades away," she said. "So we think it's an important discussion to have."
Gov. Rick Snyder began the public discussion last month during his State of the State address, suggesting that Michigan must be on the forefront of advanced vehicle technology if it hopes to retain its moniker as the "automotive capital of the world."
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The governor re-iterated his support yesterday in Detroit, noting that he's had the opportunity to ride in an autonomous vehicle, which he enjoyed.
"There's someone still in the car, folks, behind the wheel, so don't get nervous about that. But we should be leaders. There's actually two or three states ahead of us now in doing that."
Kowall, who plans to tweak his bill after meeting with Google representatives later today, said he is confident that the committee will advance the legislation. After all, he pointed out, all members — both Democrats and Republicans — are co-sponsors.
"This is probably going to be one of those bills that has nothing to do with politics," Kowall said. "It's got to do with technology, it's got to do with jobs and it's got to do with hard-working men and women here in Michigan being able to raise their families. It's real exciting."