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.