One of the most interesting innovations that will shake out of the autonomous vehicle revolution will be the legislation of this new segment. As of now, legislation is left up to the states, which has created different playgrounds for autonomous vehicles and different rules for each playground. Today we’ll take a look at Michigan’s new rules for autonomous vehicles.
Michigan signed groundbreaking legislation into law that allows more freedom to autonomous car manufacturers than ever before. The group of bills, known formally as Senate Bills 995-998 or collectively as the SAVE Act, allows manufacturers to (1) put automated vehicles on highways and roads and (2) permits them to operate without physical drivers, a steering wheel, or brake pedals. Part of the original Michigan Senate Bill 996, however, strictly defines who can and cannot participate in a Safe Autonomous Vehicle (SAVE) project. The bill specifies that, “Each vehicle in the participating fleet is owned or controlled by the motor vehicle manufacturer”. This limits companies like Uber and Waymo, who do not specifically manufacture their own vehicles. Waymo voiced its opinion against this selective legislation in a statement saying “This kind of anti-competitive bill will only slow down the rollout of life-saving technology and create an unlevel playing field at the expense of consumer safety”.
Small tweaks have been made since the SAVE Act was passed in Michigan last September. It has been revised by altering the definition of “motor vehicle manufacturer” to include companies developing and testing self-driving systems. In fact, Uber and Waymo have successfully had language added into Michigan’s SAVE legislation that allows them back onto the playground as of December 2016.
The problem still remains in several states that have copied the original restrictive Michigan legislation of the SAVE Act, such as Georgia, Tennessee, Illinois and Maryland. Automotive giant GM, who worked with Michigan to develop the original legislation, claims that it is trying to protect states from situations that could derail the deployment of autonomous vehicles. Companies like Waymo and Uber argue that these restrictions limit competition by favoring one specific company and that they impede the progress of other small companies who invest their resources in autonomous vehicle software.
Both sides raise valid concerns. On one hand, those who are unwilling and financially unable to stand behind the product they produce ought not release it to the public. And on the other hand, lawmakers should not starve the potential economic and social boon that will almost certainly come from an automotive revolution. Certainly, some compromise must be made between the two or a new, reasonable solution created. In either case, legislators must be careful in their approach to enacting bills that provide safety for consumers yet competitive market growth opportunities for automotive companies of all varieties.
We do, however, recognize the powerful influence of auto giants on government legislation in the automotive industry. Let’s hope the legislative solution fairly weighs all parties’ perspectives.
If you are interested in more information about self-driving vehicles, email Shawn Harrington at CrashAxe@arcca.com.
SHAWN HARRINGTON, BSESM, ACTAR, is an Accident Reconstructionist and Forensic Scientist at ARCCA, specializing in accident analysis/reconstruction, pedestrian/vehicle collisions, occupant crash protection and crash safety.