Spinal Column: Michigan must become the center of automated vehicle technology

 

The future looks bright for Michigan. After a decade of economic stagnation, high unemployment and bleak prospects, we are on the path to a strong recovery.
 
In the past, manufacturing was king, with automobile production at its core. Today the auto industry continues to play a vital role in our economy, with our state being home to more than 330 companies that engage in automotive research and development. These businesses spend a whopping $11 billion annually on R&D.
 
The state is positioned to be the leader in one of the emerging, high-tech segments of this industry: automated vehicles. Automated vehicles are capable of sensing their surroundings and navigating without human input.
 
In his State of the State address, Gov. Rick Snyder said he wanted to establish Michigan as a leader in automated vehicle technology to attract jobs stemming from this developing industry. We must pursue this vision. Michigan is the birthplace of the automobile industry, and we continue to be at the forefront of advancements in automotive engineering.
 
That is why earlier this year I introduced Senate Bill 169, which would position Michigan to become the center of automated vehicle technology in the United States. As of October 2012, three states have passed legislation regarding autonomous vehicles: California, Florida and Nevada. Currently, there are no defined federal regulations regarding this technology.
 
My measure would help ensure that research and development expenditures and taxes related to automated vehicles stay in Michigan. SB 169 would permit these vehicles on public Michigan roadways through the use of a “Manufacturer” license plate.
 
The governor proposed that we enact laws clearly stating that testing and operating this new technology in Michigan is legal. My bill signals that Michigan intends to be a leader in this field and attract autonomous vehicle companies to locate here.
 
Automated vehicles represent remarkable technology that will someday improve the lives of millions of Americans. As Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle has noted, automated vehicles will make our roads safer and our vehicles more fuel efficient.
 
The technology will also strengthen the economies of the states in which it is based. We must do all we can to make Michigan the leader among those states. SB 169 will help ensure that happens.
 
Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is the chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee and vice chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation. He serves the citizens of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.
 
Note: This column first appeared in the Spinal Column.