Controversial bill makes Michigan the first state to let autonomous cars on the roads WITHOUT a human driver - as officials say the possibility of fatalities is 'a risk worth taking'

  • Allows sale of self-driving vehicles to the public once tested and certified
  • It also allows automakers and tech companies to run autonomous taxi services 
  • If the vehicles crash they would be governed by Michigan's no-fault insurance laws that require each driver's insurance to pay for damage
  • The companies also could be sued under product liability laws

Companies can now test self-driving cars on Michigan public roads without a driver or steering wheel under controversial new laws that could push the state to the forefront of autonomous vehicle development - at a price.

A new package of bills signed into law Friday comes with few specific state regulations - leaving many decisions up to automakers and companies such as Google and Uber.

Michigan Transportation Director Kirk Steudle, who signed the bill, admitted there will be crashes and fatalities caused by the technology - but says 'it's a risk worth taking'. 

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Companies can now test self-driving cars on Michigan public roads without a driver or steering wheel under new laws that could push the state to the forefront of autonomous vehicle development.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SELF DRIVING CARS CRASH? 

Police will investigate any crashes and presumably would report any trends to the state, which could suspend a company's manufacturer license plates and end the tests, Michigan Transportation Director Kirk Steudle says. 

He concedes that there will be crashes and probably a fatality involving autonomous cars. 

But the technology can eliminate human errors that cause 94 percent of crashes and cut the 100 highway deaths in the U.S. every day, he said.

'It's a risk worth taking because the future of the technologies we know are going to help reduce those crashes and reduce those fatalities,' Steudle said. 

And they allow the sale of self-driving vehicles to the public once they are tested and certified, according to the state.

The bills allow testing without burdensome regulations so the industry can move forward with potential life-saving technology, said Gov. Rick Snyder, who signed the bills. 

'It makes Michigan a place where particularly for the auto industry it's a good place to do work,' he said.

The bills give Michigan the potential to be a leader by giving the companies more autonomy than say, California, which now requires human backup drivers in case something goes awry.

Michigan Transportation Director Kirk Steudle says the laws put Michigan ahead of most other states with the possible exception of Florida in specifically allowing tests without a human driver. 

Companies, he said, will make the decision as to when the cars are ready for that, based on more than a century of experience of testing cars on public roads. 

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signs legislation that establishes comprehensive regulations for the testing, use and eventual sale of autonomous vehicle technology at the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn.

WHO WILL BE ABLE TO RUN TESTS? 

One of the bills (SB 996) shows that only motor vehicle manufacturers will be able to to operate an on-demand network of self-driving cars.

That means Apple, Uber, Google and others, which only make prototypes, can't launch an Uber for self-driving cars in Michigan, but GM, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler could.

To be considered a Motor Vehicle Manufacturer, a company needs to satify the following requirements:

(A) The person has manufactured automated motor vehicles in the United States that are certified to comply with all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards. 

(B) The person has operated automated motor vehicles using a test driver and with an automated driving system engaged on public roads in the United States for at least 1,000,000 miles. 

(C) The person has obtained an instrument of insurance, surety bond, or proof of self-insurance in the amount of at least $10,000,000, and has provided evidence of that insurance, surety bond, or self-insurance to the department in a form and manner required by the department. 

Automakers have a long history of testing cars on public roads in Michigan with few, if any, incidents, Steudle says. 

The cars also have to comply with federal safety standards and may have to be certified as roadworthy by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration if proposed federal guidelines are adopted. 

'I don't want to regulate the vehicles. 

'There is nobody in state government that has any knowledge to be able to say that vehicle is ready to go on the road,' Steudle said. 

If the vehicles crash, Steudle says they would be governed by Michigan's no-fault insurance laws that require each driver's insurance to pay for damage. 

The companies also could be sued under product liability laws, he says. 

The self-driving laws also allow only reputable companies such as automakers and tech companies to do tests, Steudle says. 

'These are responsible parties,' says Snyder. 

Steudle says the laws put Michigan ahead of most other states with the possible exception of Florida in specifically allowing tests without a human driver. 

Companies, he said, will make the decision as to when the cars are ready for that, based on more than a century of experience of testing cars on public roads.  

Steudle says yes because the laws specifically authorize use without human drivers. 

He also says Michigan has an advantage over Florida and warm-weather states because companies can test in snow. 

But Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who tracks the technology, says Florida has almost no restrictions. 

THE RACE TO SELF DRIVING TAXIS: LYFT VS. UBER

General Motors & Lyft's autonomous Taxis

General Motors announced a $500 million investment in Lyft earlier this year as a joint effort to develop a fleet of self-driving taxis.

Although the idea seemed like a distant dream, the duo has announced plans for a testing program on public roads by 2017.

General Motors announced a $500 million investment in Lyft earlier this year, as a joint effort to develop a fleet of self-driving taxis. GM and Lyft plans for a testing program on public roads by 2017. The program will use Chevrolet Bolt electric taxis and 'included customers in a yet-to-be disclosed city'

The program will use Chevrolet Bolt electric taxis and 'include real customers in a yet-to-be disclosed city'.  

In addition to the testing program, Lyft is working on a new app that will be used for the autonomous cars. 

The app is still a prototype, but will list the option for an autonomous car and there is a GM OnStar assistant to answer questions or report issues while you're en route to your destination. 

Uber's self-driving car

Uber says the self-driving Volvo XC90 cars will have human backup drivers to begin with, but the move will surely worry the country's 327,000 Uber drivers who will eventually be replaced by autonomous vehicles.

Uber co-founder and chief executive officer Travis Kalanick has said that the company's goal is to replace human drivers with driverless vehicles as 'quickly as possible'.

The $300million Volvo deal will provide SUVs to Uber and see vehicles outfitted with cameras, lasers and sensors to help them navigate the city's streets.

An unspecified number of autonomous Ford Fusions will also pick up passengers.

The Volvo has 22 camera lenses, a laser on the roof and laser sensors at the corners.

Its cameras, sensors and laser can see more than 100 meters in all directions.

Other states, he said, don't expressly prohibit such testing and have agreements with individual companies to do it. 

Michigan's laws also make defining who is a driver ambiguous, he said. 

Drivers could be companies running autonomous taxi services, engineers who start autonomous vehicles, passengers who ride in the cars and the automated systems themselves, he said. 

However, one of the bills (SB 996) shows that only motor vehicle manufacturers will be able to to operate an on-demand network of self-driving cars.

That means Apple, Uber and Google — which only manufacture prototypes in some cases and don't distribute motor vehicles — and companies like them can't launch an Uber for self-driving cars in Michigan, but GM, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler could.

'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 spokesperson for the Michigan DOT told Recode. 

'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.'

However, a Google representative pointed out that the company's self-driving arm is recognized as a manufacturer of record by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

THE TOWN WHERE ONLY ROBOTS CAN DRIVE 

At first glance it seems like any other city, with five lane roads, intersections, buildings and even pedestrians waving as you pass.

However, M City, in Ann Arbor, is devoid of one thing - people.

The University of Michigan opened the $6.5m, 32 acres Mcity, the world's first controlled environment specifically designed to test the potential of connected and automated vehicle technologies that will lead the way to mass-market driverless cars today.

Ford has become the first major car maker test autonomous vehicles at Mcity – the full-scale simulated real-world urban environment at the University of Michigan.  

The $6.5 million facility will be outfitted with 40 building facades, angled intersections, a traffic circle, a bridge, a tunnel, gravel roads, and plenty of obstructed views.

Occupying 32 acres at the University's North Campus Research Complex, it includes approximately five lane-miles of roads with intersections, traffic signs and signals, sidewalks, benches, simulated buildings, street lights, and obstacles such as construction barriers.

 

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