Spinal Column: Driverless vehicles at the auto show and on Michigan’s roadways

Sen. Mike Kowall

Sen. Mike Kowall

By Sen. Mike Kowall
15th Senate District

It is the middle of January in Detroit, and that means we’re smack in the middle of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), the premier event of its kind.

The NAIAS, which runs this year from Jan. 8 through Jan. 22 at the Cobo Center downtown, is the most significant and important automobile trade show in the world.

Beginning in the early 20th century, Detroit hosted a regional auto show for several decades. In 1989, the show was opened to an international audience and became the NAIAS.

Today, the NAIAS provides the general public and industry experts access to tomorrow’s vehicles and the most innovative automotive technology on the planet.

For much of Michigan’s history, the state’s economy has been closely tied to the automobile industry, which has had its highs and lows. Now is a high point both for the industry and for automobile consumers as we enter the era of driverless vehicles.

I fully support Gov. Rick Snyder in his goal of establishing Michigan as a leader in driverless vehicle technology, and I have happily been at the forefront of legislative efforts pertaining to these autonomous vehicles.

Last month, Gov. Snyder signed two of my bills and two others that modernize guidelines for driverless vehicle research and operation and keep Michigan at the cutting edge of automobile technology innovation, growth and design.

The new laws allow “real world” testing and operation to determine the technology needed to safely introduce these vehicles into the marketplace. As technology emerges, companies will be able to operate a driverless vehicle on public roads so long as an operator is able to supervise and control the vehicle.

The laws also establish standards that these vehicles must adhere to. These include requirements for data collection and feedback from crashes from autonomous vehicles that are members of a fleet so that information can be used to further advance the technology and ensure that they are safe for consumer use.

The development of autonomous vehicles has the potential not only to bolster our state economy significantly, but to greatly reduce the number of auto accidents and make the nation’s roads safer.

Three autonomous vehicles have highlighted this year’s auto show: The Ford Fusion Hybrid, Google’s Waymo, and Chrysler’s autonomous Pacifica minivan. I expect we will see many more similar vehicles at future North American International Auto Shows as well as on Michigan roadways.

As senator for the 15th District, I represent thousands of residents who work in the automobile industry as well as countless auto manufacturing and supplier companies. I am happy that Michigan is becoming the epicenter of automated vehicle technology, which will improve the lives of millions of Americans and strengthen our economy.

This column first appeared in the Spinal Column newsweekly. Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is the Michigan Senate majority floor leader. He serves the residents of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.