Snyder signs bills allowing driverless vehicles in Michigan

LANSING, Mich. – Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed legislation allowing the testing of automated motor vehicles on Michigan roadways.
The governor called for the measures in his 2013 state of the state address.
"Michigan is the automotive capital of the world," Snyder said. "By allowing the testing of automated, driverless cars today, we will stay at the forefront in automotive technological advances that will make driving safer and more efficient in the future."
Snyder said companies and universities in Michigan are leading the way in many intelligent, connected vehicle programs aimed at driverless cars. This legislation, he said, is key to the future of research and development of automotive technology in the state.
Senate Bill 169, sponsored by state Sen. Mike Kowall, allows automakers and upfitters to test automated motor vehicles, but requires a human to be in the driver's seat to monitor performance and intervene if necessary.
A companion measure, SB 663, also sponsored by Kowall, protects original manufacturers from civil liability for damages caused by modified autonomous vehicles, unless the defect from which the damages resulted was present in the vehicle when it was manufactured.
The bills are now Public Acts 231 and 251 of 2013.

Sen. Mike Kowall announces $6.6 million in road repair projects

LANSING—State Sen. Mike Kowall announced Thursday that $6.6 million in grants from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) will fund several road repair projects in Oakland County.

A grant of $4.9 million will be used to repair I-96 from Novi Road to W. County Line, and grants totaling $1.7 million will be used to repair Pontiac Lake Bridge over Pontiac Lake Level Control and Walnut Lake Road from Halsted to Franklin.

“I am looking forward to seeing these projects completed,” said Kowall, R-White Lake. “A sound infrastructure is very important for our residents and businesses as well.”

MDOT officials and legislators from across Michigan announced a series of road repair projects at locations across the state on Thursday, Kowall said.

“Three years of sound budget decisions and living within our means has made it possible to direct existing resources toward our roads,” said Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe. “There is still much more work to be done to address all of our infrastructure needs in Michigan, but this is an important part of that process.”

Michigan Legislature approves autonomous vehicle testing

From the Detroit News

The testing of self-driving cars on Michigan roads took a big step toward becoming a reality after the state Legislature approved a pair of bills clearing the way.
The bills passed almost unanimously in both chambers Thursday with just one dissenter in the House on one of the measures. It's now up to Gov. Rick Snyder – who has been an advocate of autonomous vehicle testing – to sign the bills.
A spokeswoman for Snyder, Sara Wurfel, said Friday the governor will do "a final review and analysis of the bill … but this was something that the governor has called for and it was a priority to get done this legislative session."
In his State of the State address in January, Snyder called for Michigan to join California, Florida and Nevada in allowing self-driving vehicle research on the state's streets and highways.
State Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, who introduced the legislation and is vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, has said the measures will help ensure that research and development and taxes related to automated vehicles stay in Michigan.
Under Michigan rules, a driver would be required to be in the driver's seat at all times during testing to take over in the case of emergency. "Upfitters" of automated vehicles, such as Google, would be permitted to test vehicles along with manufacturers. Test cars would carry an "M" license plate to identify them.
The University of Michigan says that by 2021, Ann Arbor could become the first U.S. city with a shared fleet of networked, driverless vehicles. That's the goal of the Mobility Transformation Center, a cross-campus U-M initiative that also involves government and industry representatives. Ann Arbor has been home to a 15-month study of 3,000 vehicles that are linked to one another in a test of technology to see if connected cars can help each other avoid crashes.
"We want to demonstrate fully driverless vehicles operating within the whole infrastructure of the city within an eight-year timeline and to show that these can be safe, effective and commercially successful," said Peter Sweatman, director of the U-M Transportation Research Institute.
At a congressional hearing last month, a senior General Motors Co. official and a top researcher told a U.S. House of Representatives panel that self-driving cars will not be available "for the foreseeable future," but Nissan Motor Co. is sticking to its timetable of offering autonomous vehicles by 2020. Mike Robinson, vice president of sustainability and global regulatory affairs at GM, said that drivers will have to stay involved for some time.
Over the past two years, autonomous vehicles have sparked the public's imagination. Search-engine giant Google Inc. has logged more than 500,000 miles on its fleet of self-driving research vehicles, while three states have approved laws for testing.
The National Highway Traffic Safety administrator is looking at whether to begin the regulatory process to require features such as automatic braking. Administrator David Strickland said the agency will make a decision on its plans by year's end.
Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, told the House panel that autonomous cars could prevent many of the 32,000 or more traffic deaths and 2.2 million injuries annually.
He said that driverless cars would mean states would have to spend less on highway infrastructure like extra-wide lanes, guard rails, rumble strips, wide shoulders, even stop signs. But challenges remain, such as liability, preventing hacking of vehicles, privacy and ensuring enough wireless network space to make the program work.

Michigan gives green light to autonomous vehicle testing despite concerns from Google


Michigan will soon become the fourth state in the country to allow and regulate the testing of self-driving vehicles.
State lawmakers on Thursday gave final approval to Senate Bill 169, a long-discussed proposal that will give automakers and suppliers the legal authority to test autonomous vehicles on Michigan roads. Gov. Rick Snyder called for the legislation last January in his 2013 State of the State Address.
"It's changing history in the automotive industry. It's as dramatic as having a woman run General Motors," sponsoring Sen. Mike Kowall (R-White Lake) said Tuesday, referencing the automaker's new CEO, Mary Barra. "The industry is changing. The world is changing. And we want to be heading the pack here. We don't want to be sitting in the back seat."
Automakers, including Detroit's Big Three and Toyota, support the legislation and are already testing self-driving vehicles here. Many cars already on the road include autonomous technologies, such as adaptive cruise control, self-parking and crash avoidance systems.
Kowall's bill also will allow suppliers and "upfitters" to test self-driving vehicles on Michigan roads, provided there is a human inside, and protect original manufacturers from civil liability for damages caused by modified vehicles. Continental, a German company with its U.S. headquarters in Auburn Hills, has tested its autonomous tech on Volkswagens in Nevada.
Google, the California-based technology giant that is developing its own self-driving cars, worked with Kowall's office during drafting of the bill but ended up opposing the final product because it will enact a prohibition on autonomous vehicle operation outside of testing.
The legislation would "make Michigan the most restrictive of all states that have passed bills on AVs," Google told lawmakers last week. Approving testing but not operation would "put Michigan in the awkward position of having to play catch up to the other states that have already embraced the future of where advancements in automobile technology are ultimately headed."
Florida, California and Nevada have enacted broader laws anticipating future autonomous vehicle adoption. Kowall said Michigan is taking a different approach but has the same goal. He plans to begin work on additional legislation for future operations as soon as the governor signs the testing bill.
Passenger and commercial use of self-driving vehicles presents a number of legal questions and may impact "at least 100 places" in the Michigan Vehicle Code, according to Kowall. For instance, is someone with a .08 blood-alcohol level drunk driving if their car is actually driving itself?
Kowall expects he and his colleagues will work on a large package of bills to address operations questions, but he said it was important to finish the testing measure before the North American International Auto Show returns to Detroit next month.
"We're going to have people from all over the world here, and the message we're trying to send is that we're open for business," said Kowall. "We have the research. We have the technology, and we have the people. That's the most important part here — we have the engineers that can bring this to fruition."

Spinal Column: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the residents of western Oakland County

By Sen. Mike Kowall
15th Senate District

Greetings! During this joyous season, I would like to wish a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone in western Oakland County. It is my sincere hope that you are able to spend this time with loved ones.

Once again, I am blessed to be able to gather over the holidays with my family, whose love, support and encouragement enable me to make the difficult decisions that help build a better Michigan.

As 2013 draws to a close, we reflect upon the past year and look forward to a new year full of possibilities. I am proud of what the Legislature accomplished in 2013 to continue Michigan’s momentum toward recovery and prosperity.

We continue to take a proactive approach to revitalizing our state. As a result, we have more jobs, a better economic outlook and a more fiscally sound budget than when I took office nearly three years ago.

I remain committed to identifying and enacting innovative ideas to give all Michigan residents more opportunities and more freedom. This year, these solutions included approving a balanced budget that will help pay down debt, calling on Congress to do its job, providing increasing support for education and much more.

Throughout my time in the Michigan House and Senate, I have valued the voices of my constituents. I have benefitted from hearing your thoughts and experiences, and I have enjoyed getting to know you.

It is critically important that public officials listen to those who elected them to office. I know from my experience that listening to the residents of the 15th District has given me a greater insight into the challenges facing our communities and what needs to be done to improve our state and region.

This year, the Senate passed a structurally balanced budget that makes important investments in our roads, our communities and our future. As is always the case during the budget process, making decisions that will result in the state attracting well-paying jobs is my top priority. The state’s budget reflects that priority. The Senate took a responsible, long-term approach to budgeting that will pay down billions of dollars in debt so the mistakes of the past will not be repeated.

The Senate also passed a resolution formally asking Congress to call a constitutional convention for the explicit and sole purpose of writing a balanced budget amendment into the U.S. Constitution. The national debt now stands at $17.1 trillion. Every taxpayer now bears a staggering cost of $149,440 to repay the national debt, and every child born today carries a $54,000 bill as their portion of this debt. This bold step is necessary to avert a massive disruption to our nation’s economy and to ensure a future for our children.

I am happy to say that since Fiscal Year 2012, Gov. Rick Snyder and the Senate have increased overall state funding for K-12 education by $800 million.

Much of this increased state funding has gone toward helping local school districts control the increased costs in the teacher retirement system. This increased investment will reduce our unfunded liability an estimated $15.6 billion in the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System. By paying down this long-term debt, we are protecting teacher and school employee pensions and helping local schools focus more dollars on classroom education.

I am hopeful for the future of Michigan. Our accomplishments and the inspiration the residents of western Oakland County provide give me renewed resolve to fight for our values and build on our achievements to help create more jobs and more liberty.
I wish you and your family the very best this Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year. God Bless you all.

This column first appeared in the Spinal Column. 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.