Michigan on Friday became the first state in the US to pass extensive statewide regulations related to self-driving vehicles, and one of only eight in total to ratify any laws governing the technology.
The laws are significant in that for the first time a state has attempted to define the infrastructure of the self-driving vehicle. They set requirements for how such cars can be tested on public roads. They revise a prior law that mandated a “backup” driver be available to take over the controls at any time, paving the way for a car without a steering wheel or pedals.
When the self-driving feature is engaged, the law establishes the vehicle itself as the “driver” for the purposes of obeying all traffic rules. (What’s not clear is whether such a “driver” can be suspended from the road.) And for those wondering, my read of the law is s that it still requires the self-driving car to contain at least one designated licensed “driver.”
Importantly for automakers, the law indemnifies autonomous vehicle OEMs from liability stemming from changes made to the system without manufacturer consent. But less appealing is the new state ban on non-auto-makers from using their autonomous technology on Michigan roads. In short, Apple, Google and Lyft, for example, would either have to partner with the Fords and GMs of the world, or create their own car companies. Let’s hope that doesn’t slow innovation in this key emerging area the way Ma Bell’s monopoly on telecom did throughout much of the 1900s.