Automated autos get yellow light

We give a yellow light to Michigan Senate Bill 169, which would allow driverless cars to be tested on the state's roadways.
Feb 28, 2013

In other words: Please proceed with caution.

State Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, has introduced legislation that would position Michigan to become the center of driverless car testing in the United States.

At first blush, this sounds futuristic and a bit scary — who wants to share the road with computer-driven vehicles?

But reading further into the bill, which is now going through public hearings, relaxes those fears due to the included safety regulations. One of those regulations is that someone be behind the wheel during testing, ready to take over should something go amiss.

Data from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. shows Michigan has more than 330 companies that engage in automotive research and development, and that those companies are spending more than $11 billion annually.

Kowall said this measure would help ensure that this expensive research and development — and the resulting taxes related to automated vehicles — remain in Michigan.

It is currently estimated that Michigan companies are spending $120,000 per automated vehicle to test them in California, Nevada or Florida, where there are laws that allow such testing.

In his State of the State address in January, Gov. Rick Snyder said he wants to establish Michigan as a leader in automated vehicle testing to attract jobs stemming from this emerging industry.

The governor proposed that Michigan enact laws clearly stating that testing and operating this new technology is legal. Senate Bill 169 signals that Michigan intends to be a leader in this field and attract autonomous vehicle companies to locate here.

These automated vehicles — which are capable of sensing their surroundings and navigating without human input — will make our roads safer and our vehicles more fuel efficient, according to Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle. The trucking industry estimates up to a 20 percent fuel savings when the accelerator is controlled with automation.

Proponents believe this technology is just years — not decades — away.

Michigan has lost its luster lately as the automobile capital of the world, but this offers a chance for our great state to reassert itself as a leader in the auto industry. Just exercise caution, please.

Our Views reflects the majority opinion of the members of the Grand Haven Tribune editorial board: Kevin Hook, Cheryl Welch, Matt DeYoung and Fred VandenBrand. What do you think? E-mail us a letter to the editor to news@grandhaventribune.com or log-in to our website and leave a comment below.
 

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