By on December 28, 2013

The Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, has signed legislation that permits “self-driving” cars on the state’s roads — but, as you might guess, there’s a catch.

Under the new rules, self-driving cars will need to be “M”-tagged, just like all the Aston Martin press loaners in the Road&Track parking lot. The manufacturers of the original, unmodified vehicles won’t be liable for damage that is done by the modified, autonomous version. This seems like it should be obvious — is Honda liable now for what so-called ricer Integra GS-Rs do? — but it was apparently both important and controversial.

The law also requires that there be a human being present in the driver’s seat just in case it all goes wrong. This job — driver of driverless car — will no doubt join “job-bank union worker” in the Pantheon of highly-desirable do-nothing auto-industry jobs, although my favorite occupation of this type is “tire tester” at the TRC outside Marysville, Ohio. You just drive a truck around the banking for eight hours at a time. There’s no steering input required because the banking steers the car for you, so many people bring books and prop said books up against the steering wheel so they can read while they drive. Yes, your humble author applied for this job twenty years ago, and yes, he was rejected for being under-qualified.

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42 Comments on “Driverless Cars Are Legal In Michigan, As Long As There’s A Driver...”


  • avatar
    -Nate

    Nothing to worry about ~ I saw a James Bond Moviea while back where he drove his (? BMW ?) remotely and it was fine , killed all the bad guys for him in fact….

    Driverless Cars will rank right up there with other great inventions like the MKI Self Supporting Highway Department Shovel….

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      I loved those shovels! Unfortunately, there was no way to eliminate the seven guys watching.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        Hey now, don’t forget that somebody’s gotta supervise the guys holding those “stop/slow” signs.

        • 0 avatar
          -Nate

          Presumably everyone knows about The Highway Departments Routine ” Shoulder Density Test ” :

          You run a crew cab truck out on the Highway with four guys in it , one holds the stop/slow sign , one sets up the orange plastic cones then sleeps / reads the newspaper in the cab with the engine idling , the third stands there ‘ Supervising ‘ and the fourth guys , he takes the shovel (known in the trade as an ” Irish Banjo “) and , when/if he can find the wide end of it , he places the tip into the dirt shoulder and rests his foot on the edge , stands there for eight hours then measures how far the tip of said shovel settled into the loosely packed shoulder ~ if not more than 3/4″ , the hard pack’s density is O.K. and they pack up and go home , test another site the next day .

          -Nate

          (your Tax Dollars at work !)

  • avatar

    If I can’t get in the car drunk and have it take me home, it’s not a driverless car.

    If I can’t get out, walk into the World Trade Center, and have it go find a park – then come pick me up when I signal it, it’s not a driverless car.

    By the time technology is good enough to give us “driverless car”, we won’t be able to afford one because we’ll be unemployed.

    The movie iRobot never explained what all those NX5 owners did for a living…

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      And the inevitable bar raising begins.

      As predicted.

      Kudos for finally seeing the writing on the wall and strategically pushing your day of shame another decade into the future. You know, if you owned up to your errors, your readers might have some reason to give some stock to your word. You have nowhere to go but up!

      • 0 avatar

        I’m not worried about “stock”.

        The driverless car thing is a pipe dream. The states make too much revenue ticketing us to ever let that happen.

        • 0 avatar
          Landcrusher

          Lol, so now it’s not that it isn’t feasible, just big government won’t allow it. I’m pretty sure that’s a change in position as well.

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            Oh, the states will allow it, eventually. As bigtruck points out, there’s some revenue replacement that has to be worked out first.

          • 0 avatar

            The creative way would be to tax per minute the vehicle is in autonomous mode.
            Take control of the wheel and you get fined for every infraction the car reports-and it will report all,in the name of safety. The State gets half and sends the other half to the local government where the infraction occurred.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      “If I can’t get in the car drunk and have it take me home, it’s not a driverless car.”

      even if it could, I’m certain you will be able to get a DUI, I’m also sure whatever legislatures that set the laws into motion will essentially require the driver to pay as much attention to the road as operating a normal vehicle requires for safety reasons so lots of money will be made on drunk drivers, sleeping drivers, distracted drivers and so on.

      You do remind me of one of the things I would wish for if I stumbled upon a genie with 3 wishes. One of those wishes would be for every single person in the world to not break any laws and pay all taxes and bills on time for a period of 5 years.

      I’d love to see the beast starve and how it would respond.

      • 0 avatar

        Raph.

        I’ve had this idea too. I’d like to see what would happen if I could telepathically force minorities to stop committing crimes. Thing is, the same “they” who assassinated JFK would probably come and waterboard me (or kill me) to get the crime back.

        Imagine an entire world without minority crime.

        Suddenly, they’d get ALL OF THE JOBS because they are 100% trustworthy. They’d be home studying math and science instead of out committing crimes (or the club). They’d get ALL the women – since they are so safe and so trustworthy.

        The problem is, if NO ONE could commit ANY crimes, the entire Congress would fall into disarray because that’s all they do.

        Imagine the abortion , assisted suicide and death penalty debate then… Would they still be able to allow either of these things?

      • 0 avatar
        Landcrusher

        They would respond by abusing the ability to set laws. How would they be able to resist?

    • 0 avatar
      Hillman

      They call those taxis. This law makes somewhat sense in that airplanes and ships that have auto pilots still require someone at the helm.

  • avatar
    jmo

    “The Locomotive Act 1865 (Red Flag Act):
    Stipulated that self-propelled vehicles should be accompanied by a crew of three; and if the vehicle was attached to two or more vehicles an additional person was to accompany the vehicles, and a man with a red flag walking at least 60 yd (55 m) ahead of each vehicle, who was also required asist with the passage of horses and carriages. The vehicle was required to stop at the signal of the flagbearer.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locomotive_Acts

  • avatar
    readallover

    Let`s start a wager: How far does the car get before the driver wakes up?:

    10 miles
    100 miles
    Runs it to empty – over 300 miles

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    This was always going to be a necessary step. It may never be practical to remove the “driver” from liability, though it will likely be decriminalized at some point so that you won’t be able to be put in jail if you are in charge of a car that kills someone. That’s a couple decades after the cars are common I suspect.

    • 0 avatar

      It’ll never happen.

      We’ll have driverless cars the day after cars can fly.

      • 0 avatar
        Landcrusher

        Cars can’t fly by your definitions already on record here at TTAC. By your definition of flying car, if it has anything differentiating it from a car, it’s not a car. As soon as I add or remove anything so that it will fly, you will simply say it’s no longer a car. Furthermore, if it needs a runway, you don’t think it will qualify either.

        By your standards, my tablet was never a computer even though it’s much more computer than my first several computers. Since I don’t have you on record as denying the iPad would ever work, I suspect you won’t admit to being a doubter on that one. Any chance you think our moon landings were a hoax?

  • avatar
    Garak

    I really hope we’ll see true driverless cars at some point, but I’m not convinced it’s going to happen in my lifetime. I’ll be content with self-navigating vehicles, even if I’m not allowed to watch TV while sitting in the driver’s seat.

  • avatar
    bud777

    My car is not exactly driverless, but it IS controlled remotely by the hot air bag in the passenger’s seat

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    What would be the point of a car without driver? Just an empty car driving around for the sake of driving? Driving in the backseat without a care already exists… it is called a bus or train.

    And shouldn’t this be a federal thing? What is the point of allowing it in one state and what happens when the car leaves the state? how is the cop in the other state supposed to know if that car drove in mnaual an dautomatic mode (assuming one still can drive manually with that car).

    This automatic driving car thing seems to be somethign no one asked for. What annoys me whne driving is traffic jam, .speed limits, other idionts on the street, fuel cost, etc. Not once did i think “boy, i don’t care about that red light again, but wish i could sit in traffic jam and not touch the wheel”. thsi seems to be a solution to a problem no one had a problem with.

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      Commercial Drivers, due to silly and archaic tax laws, are silly expensive, and likely overly costly even without labor taxes. Sending freight and passengers around robot is just going to be cheaper than commercial drivers.

      Making it a federal thing is neither necessary nor beneficial. Road laws are mostly state controlled. The bits that the Feds control are pollution and safety which is mostly good for keeping costs down, one standard, though has become less efficient due to bureaucratic issues and lobbying.

      • 0 avatar
        HerrKaLeun

        I din’t really think about trucks since this article sounded to only talk about cars for people. I agree for trucks this seems appealing, but who refuels them etc? and the truckign company would need a dispatcher that routes them (like the pilot controlling drones in Afghanistan sits in Las Vegas).

        For cars, I mean cars trannporting people, the limitation to have the driver stiing in the driver seat isn’t a real limitation. A person sits in the car anyway since the whole purpose of a car is to drive a person around.

        If you hate driving a car so much that you need automatic cars, why drive a car in the first place?

        BTW: Are any actual automatic cars being sold in the next years at all? Or is the whole discussion moot? Unless GM, Ford etc. bring specific cars to the market in large amounts, I don’t really see the point of this law. This seems like a law detailing at what rate electricity from fusion reactors can be sold while we still are 100 years away from that being available. Or the exact Visa details for Aliens from out of space.

        • 0 avatar
          Landcrusher

          There have been announcements that this is the plan from several of the large manufacturers. Cars with limited abilities are already being shipped from BMW and Volvo. Fully autonomous cars are being tested, but aren’t ready for release into the wild yet. Problems still exist. The liability part of this law is likely a bone to the manufacturers so they will invest more in R&D.

          If you are asking why drive a car, I have to ask where you live. Lots of ideas sound silly based on where you live. In many parts of the US, a car is the only viable choice.

          • 0 avatar
            HerrKaLeun

            you mean the same manufacturers that still struggle with ignition coils, head gaskets and other basic car features will have fully automatic cars on the market soon?
            Most stillhaven’t managed to integrate entertainment properly and most still can’t get heating/cooling right… and they now attemtp to do what the driver is supposed to do? Oh, boy… get the popcorn out to watch.

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            Certainly, the whole process will create much fodder for comedians and naysayers as did cars and planes themselves a hundred years ago.

          • 0 avatar
            HerrKaLeun

            I’m not against new technology. But would be nice if after over 100 years of cars they would get corrosion, HVAC and other simple things resolved first before I trust them with driving the whole car.

            I seriously hope they hire better engineers than they had for all those i-touch and whatever integrations

          • 0 avatar
            jz78817

            “I’m not against new technology. But would be nice if after over 100 years of cars they would get corrosion, HVAC and other simple things resolved first before I trust them with driving the whole car.”

            Then you want the impossible. No manufactured good has a 0% failure rate. Even saintly Apple has a 3-5% failure rate on their mobile products.

            and “corrosion?” ha! as long as cars are made from metal, they’ll corrode.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Actually, a bus or train has a pre-determined route. What you mean is a taxi, shuttle, or a guy who has a chauffeur. The trick is to avoid having to pay a driver and/or rent the vehicle.

      I have to agree, this is something nobody asked for (but many would like to have:free mobility), except for traffic experts and safety wonks who refuse to believe the “carnage” on the roads is evolution at work, because those whom evolution would destroy, sometimes take others with them.

    • 0 avatar
      Garak

      EU forces drivers to have a 45 minute break every 4,5 hours – that means about 17% time wasted due to human weakness. Also, a truck driver has to be trained, given holidays and sick leave, paid for regular driving, loading, waiting, overtime, weekends, evenings and nights, and so forth and so forth. A driverless truck on the other hand could run 24 hours per day without any pay, making it incredibly efficient.

      For people, buses or trains are an option only if they are available, and in many places a car is the only way to travel. Having the car drive without input would allow people to relax or be productive instead of wasting their time gripping the wheel. Also, a ride in a robot bus or taxi would be much cheaper than in a regularly driven vehicle due to aforementioned driver-related reasons.

  • avatar
    kilroy01

    First the driverless vehicles are coming. Period.
    There is money to be made/saved. First it will be semi-trucks. Some proposed usage models have a single driver in the front truck being followed by several others that are driverless. But that is just the start. Not to large a step to remove the first driver in the future.
    We have the computing power to do it, the “vision” systems work but the cost is to high (like anything else brand new).

    Who else really wants driverless cars? The insurance companies for one. Less accidents mean more profit. New auto braking systems, will be standard in Europe in a year or two, because they save lives and money. Like traction control it will be standard here soon as well.

    The auto industry is getting ready for it. All the drive by wire features that are in new cars are more than a first step, it shows the path they hope to follow.

    This is worth billions to the company that can get it on the street in passenger cars, billions. Also billions to the company that gets the tech out there for the auto industry to use. It won’t be some small outfit, it will be someone who can lawyer up, because the profit is worth the fight.

    The sad part is the car won’t be what we think a car should be. It will be an appliance. Inner city dwellers will simply use the car share program. Get online, order the ICar and it is waiting for you at your door so you can go shopping. No parking problems or added expense. It will be great for drunks, the disabled, the elderly and parents to busy to take their kids to T-ball. Not to mention the ability to make the car your teen drives go no faster than the speed limit and stay inside set bounties. Maybe they can “drive” the car by themselves but it is automated when a passenger is on board. The options will be almost unlimited, there will be an app for that.

    The driverless car will kill the car as we know it. In a the coming decades – “stupid” cars will slowly be pushed off the road. In the end they will be toys of the well off.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      >> We have the computing power to do it, the “vision” systems work but the cost is to high (like anything else brand new).

      I disagree. The SLAM (simultaneous localization and modeling) system I’m working with is state-of-the-art and it’s not even close to what we really need for safe autonomous vehicles in the real world. On top of that, the intuitive AI systems we need aren’t there yet either.

      The autonomous vehicles we’ve seen on the roads are pretty much toys and if they were introduced into the real world and large numbers, you’d see a lot of failures. For example a flooded underpass. How do you detect that? A Laserdyne scanner wont detect the problem and would probably take the vehicle right into the water. Hundreds of other scenarios.

      • 0 avatar
        kilroy01

        AI? Not so much. The systems I’ve seen have all had subsystems that input data into a central “processor”. Each item has it own set of parameters, like cars today. Lasers aren’t the only vision systems, thermal, sonar and radar are also used. There is also the use of wireless communication between vehicles and possibly stoplights, roadwork pedestrians… The last Darpa vehicles use all these, (and most likely more) and a subset of these technologies will end up in future mass produced platforms.
        To your point about the unexpected. The answer is that there will have to be a way for the system to “see” and or interrogate unfamiliar objects. No one wants the automated car to be a lemming driving into flash flood covered road or into a sink hole. The obvious one is to autostop (safety) when it “sees” something unexpected. It isn’t that hard to imagine that the car will compare stored images (street view from google earth for example) in its database showing the road your driving on and comparing it to what it is “seeing” now. If the road isn’t “correct” it alerts the passenger or external entity to the issue as well as other cars within range and waits for instructions. Will there be issues, yes. Will it be anywhere as deadly as drunks, teens and the elderly piloting a couple of tons of steel at high speed, I doubt it. Which is why insurance companies will love it. Lower risk = more profit.

        Also, I don’t see stand alone systems being the one used in POVs in the long run. A networked approach has to many advantages, including cost.

        Look at the tech available in cars now: ABS, Traction Control, lane departure warning, radar cruise control, auto braking, auto parking, lane guidance, drive by wire… the list going on and on. Several car makers are going to bring out some kind of limited self-driving cars: In 2014 (Volvo) 2015 Cadillac and Audi and the list going on.

        I’d bet the farm that there is will be automated cars available to the masses by 2020, whether they are driverless is more a legal question than technical.

        In the short run the first thing to look for is Europe to embrace the technology the moment it proves it saves lives. With the world wide platform sharing it won’t be long before it is common here.

        It will be a brave (ok boring) new world.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          It will be small steps. Big luxury cars are almost there now, at least on the highway. I suspect we will have some sort of “automated lane” in places, where some portion of the guidance is in the road itself as the next step. I agree we are a LONG way from the completely autonomous pick the drunk up at the bar and deliver him home sort of car.

          I am ALL for automation on long interstate trips. Sign me up.

  • avatar
    Atum

    Driverless cars are like electric ones: good idea, but they’ll never be perfect. Even the Tesla can only go 300 miles, and the more mainstream ones are even lower.

    They’re also like Liberals, but let my GWB profile picture answer that for you.

  • avatar
    JaySeis

    I prefer my driverless car look like a dome car (railroad) with a wet bar, recliner, 60″ HDTV, satellite reception, heck make the recliner a massage recliner. Downstairs would be the head, shower, and Murphy bed. ‘Cept for the dome, it could look like a shipping container for all I care.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    The 1st ‘baby step’ would be when you can jump out of your car and it parks itself within a parking lot. You pull up to the front door of a restaurant, mall, theater, office building, apartment/condo, parking garage, regional airport, sports event, etc, you get out, and the car goes off and does its thing. It’ll come back at a prescribed time or when you call for it.

    Once that becomes commonplace and driverless cars are fully accepted and trusted (offroad), then they may be accepted for public streets on a limited basis. Statistics will eventually prove, without a doubt, driverless cars are 1000′s of times safer than humans that tend to drive with their head up their @$$ and unintended acceleration goes to zero percent.

    One step at a time until we can have completely driverless cars, trucks and buses flying down the interstate. And much safer roads.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      I’d wager we’re a little closer to this “baby step” than we might realize. Take those cars that can parallel park themselves (at least it looks good on the TV commercials!). How about letting them parallel park themselves *without a driver inside*? Dah dah dahhhhhh (scary music here). And/or perpendicular park themselves. As in, stop, hop out, take your bags out of the trunk, etc., and press the “park” button on the keyfob. Walking away is optional.

  • avatar
    CelticPete

    Yup.

    Driverless cars are going to take over. In the future you won’t even be allowed to drive your own car. You can count on that.. Driverless cars will be so much safer then regular cars they will grandfather out the old cars. Eventually you won’t have the option to ‘take over’ at the wheel at all.

    But on this site I think this will be met with joy. The truth about cars has always been about promoting appliance cars near as I can tell. These things will make the Camry seem like the model T. (The model was actually really tricky to operate).


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