By on December 9, 2016

foogy highway

Vehicles without steering wheels, brake pedals, or even drivers are now allowed to operate on public roads in Michigan.

Today, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a package of auto industry-backed legislation that permits automakers and technology companies to develop, test and even sell autonomous vehicles in the Mitten State. The policy even enables autonomous ride-hailing services, provided that the vehicles have undergone certification.

Michigan is now the wild frontier for self-aware cars.

“By establishing guidelines and standards for self-driving vehicles, we’re continuing that tradition of excellence in a way that protects the public’s safety while at the same time allows the mobility industry to grow without overly burdensome regulations,” Snyder said in a statement today.

Effective regulation has been a slippery fish, however. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration outlined a 15-point voluntary plan for automakers in September that met with fairly mixed feedback. One of the biggest criticisms being that the NHTSA’s guidelines aren’t specific enough and that the plan’s voluntary nature makes it impossible to enforce.

The new laws have garnered approval from General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Toyota, Google, Uber, and Lyft.

“The enactment of this legislation affords Michigan the opportunity to be at the forefront of the next major transition in the automotive industry and should serve as a model for other states,” GM said in a statement.

As a “model” state, Michigan’s legislation lets companies use their technology much more liberally. California has also passed passed regulations that only allows for vehicle testing and requires a human to be present in the driver’s seat at all times. Michigan State officials feel the more relaxed regulations should encourage automakers to stay, making it an industry leader.

“We view this legislation as Michigan getting government out of the way of technology and letting it be deployed when it’s ready, but at the same time in a manner that keeps people accountable for keeping people safe on roads,” Michigan Department of Transportation director Kirk Steudle told Forbes. “There’s 100 years of history of automobile companies in Michigan putting test vehicles on the road and putting safe vehicles out.”

autonomous car graph

Not everyone in the auto industry is happy, however. Uber has taken issue with the contents of one of the bills (SB 996), which allows only motor vehicle manufacturers to participate in an initiative that permits a deployment of on-demand self-driving taxis.

“We oppose SB 996 (the ‘SAVE Act’) and its anti-tech protectionist elements, but SB 995 helps resolve many of those issues, and we appreciate the state enacting those improvements,” an Uber spokeswoman said Friday. “Ultimately, we think it is early in the life of this technology to prescribe state laws, and while these bills may work for Michigan, we do not think they are something other states should use as a model.”

Early or not, it’s just a matter of time before some poor Michigander is terrified by the sight of an empty automobile cruising down the highway in the middle of the night.

[Source: Mlive] [Image: Michigan.gov]

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