Kowall bill could make Michigan the center of automated vehicle testing

LANSING—State Sen. Mike Kowall has introduced legislation that would position Michigan to become the center of automated vehicle testing in the United States.

Senate Bill 169 would permit the testing of automated vehicles on public Michigan roadways through the use of a “Manufacturer” license plate.

“Data from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation show Michigan has more than 330 companies that engage in automotive research and development—spending over $11 billion annually,” said Kowall, R-White Lake. “My measure would help ensure that research and development expenditures and taxes related to automated vehicles stay in Michigan.”

In his State of the State address, Gov. Rick Snyder said he wanted to establish Michigan as a leader in automated vehicle testing to attract jobs stemming from this emerging industry.

Automated vehicles are capable of sensing their surroundings and navigating without human input. As of October 2012, three states have passed legislation regarding the testing of autonomous vehicles. Currently, there are no defined federal regulations regarding automated vehicle technology.

The governor proposed that Michigan enact laws clearly stating that testing and operating this new technology in Michigan is legal. SB 169 signals that Michigan intends to be a leader in this field and attract autonomous vehicle companies to locate here.

Under Kowall’s bill, a manufacturer license plate would include an “M” designation. The measure would permit manufacturers and “subcomponent” suppliers to use the M plate for automated vehicle testing. “Upfitters” of automated vehicle technology would be included as subcomponent suppliers under the legislation.

The Michigan Secretary of State office (SOS) has the responsibility for determining whether an entity qualifies as an upfitter or subcomponent supplier. The SOS has requested that the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) work closely with the SOS to determine whether entities can be qualified as an upfitter or subcomponent supplier.

“Automated vehicles will make our roads safer and our vehicles more fuel efficient,” said MDOT Director Kirk Steudle. “The trucking industry estimates up to a 20 percent fuel savings when the accelerator is controlled with automation.”