How Michigan lawmakers seek to open the path for self-driving cars

Michigan self-driving cars: A new comprehensive package of laws tries to pave the way for an innovation that could upend how we get around.

Eric Risberg/AP
In this photo taken May 18, 2016, a Google self-driving car is seen on display at Google's I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif. California regulators are asking members of the public what they think about proposed regulations that would eventually permit self-driving cars that lack a steering wheel or pedals on public roads

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed four bills on Friday that create the first package of state-level regulation on self-driving cars, in what state officials on both sides of the aisle hope will put the state at the vanguard of investment and development for the budding industry.

“In my heart I view this as a portal opening for safety, for opportunity for more economic success,” said Governor Snyder during the bills’ signing at the Automobile Hall of Fame in Dearborn, according to the Detroit News. "We should be proud we’re leading the world, right here in Michigan.” 

Seven other states, and Washington, D.C., have laws that permit testing of self-driving cars, and three others allow them to ply the roads more broadly. But as the nation’s first stab at a comprehensive legal framework for the cars, the Michigan laws shine a light on how lawmakers have struggled to stay abreast of rapidly changing technologies that could eventually revolutionize the roadways. 

Back in 2009, when Google first tested driverless cars in California, noted the Harvard Business Review this month, legislators floundered to find even the proper vocabulary for what was being unveiled.  

"The legal system is playing an urgent game of catch-up, focused on the perhaps lengthy interim period when autonomous vehicles share the roads with distracted, drunk, and error-prone humans,” wrote the Review. 

“If lawmakers don’t handle this correctly — well, consider Red Flag laws. At the dawn of the first automotive age, laws were passed in some areas that required a person carrying a red flag to warn people that a “horseless carriage” was coming. Pennsylvania went further, requiring that motorists 'stop, disassemble their vehicle, and conceal the parts in bushes if the car frightened a passing horse.' (Only a veto by the governor kept the law, passed unanimously, from taking effect.)" 

The new package in Michigan is perhaps a bit more thoughtfully designed: they allow testing of vehicles without steering wheels or brakes and their sale once they’ve been certified, legalizes ride-sharing services, and establishes a new wing of the state department of transportation that will recommend policies and regulate the collection and sharing of traffic data, according to the Detroit Free Press. It does so in a way that would seem to preserve power for Michigan’s automakers: the new permissions apply to “motor vehicle manufacturers,” meaning companies that pioneer software but don’t build and distribute cars themselves, like Google, Apple and Uber, may have to work with car manufacturers, according to Recode. Tech companies had successfully lobbied for a revision of language that they worried could exclude them from testing.

“Google and Apple wouldn’t be classified as a motor vehicle manufacturer until they have vehicles on the open market that meet [the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s] Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards,” a Michigan Department of Transportation spokesperson told the site. “For now, they would be classified as a manufacturer of automated vehicle technology and could become a motor vehicle manufacturer if they met the requirements.” 

Some thorny issues that could surface as humans start sharing the road with autonomous vehicles may have more to do with human psychology than legal structures. In one study released in November by the London School of Economics, conducted among 12,000 participants in 11 countries, some respondents said that when behind the wheel, they might be tempted to push around cars without drivers.

"[The autonomous vehicles are] going to stop,” said one UK-based respondent. "So you’re going to mug them right off. They’re going to stop and you’re just going to nip round."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to How Michigan lawmakers seek to open the path for self-driving cars
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Business/In-Gear/2016/1210/How-Michigan-lawmakers-seek-to-open-the-path-for-self-driving-cars
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe