Michigan, whose emerging industries put the world on wheels a century ago, is leading the way in the next evolution of driving: autonomous vehicles.
The Great Lakes State has propelled itself to the forefront nationally with the creation of the first comprehensive statewide self-driving laws in the country. The measures, among other things, allow for the operation of autonomous vehicles on Michigan roads. Previously, self-driving vehicles were permitted on state roads only for testing by manufacturers.
"The bill (Senate Bill 995) got the government out of the way of technology," says Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation who has been a strong advocate of bolstering the state’s mobility efforts. "Michigan allowed technology to move forward at the pace of development. We are allowing autonomous vehicles to develop as fast as the technology is ready."
The legislation, which also requires manufacturers to adhere to all safety requirements mandated with autonomous vehicle testing, cemented Michigan’s role as a world leader in automotive design, technology and production.
In a state synonymous with the automotive industry, it was important for Michigan to take the lead in governing autonomous vehicles, Steudle says. Other legislation allows for automated platoons, where vehicles travel together at electronically coordinated speeds and authorizes on-demand autonomous vehicle networks.
Since then, other states have followed Michigan’s lead, adopting similar legislation or borrowing parts of a set of bills approved unanimously by both sides of the political aisle in late 2016. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation relating to autonomous vehicles, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Interest in regulating what many believe is the future of the automotive industry grows each year.
Michigan also is being watched by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
“NHTSA is very interested in what we’re doing,” says Steudle, who last week
attended a U.S. Department of Transportation summit on automated vehicle policy. “(The federal government) is tackling some of these same issues we’ve been dealing with the past year.”
The Trump administration plans to unveil revised self-driving car guidelines this summer. The Washington, D.C., summit was aimed at helping the government accelerate the safe rollout of autonomous vehicles.
Michigan is also collaborating with others states as they work to develop self-driving vehicle legislation.
“We're working closely with colleagues in California and a number of other national organizations and groups to do things collaboratively," Steudle says.
The state has also created partnerships with Ontario, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and is sharing relevant information with Texas, Tennessee, Nevada, and Arizona.
“Collaboration has to happen at multiple levels, across government levels and across disciplines,” he says, noting many issues remain with real-world use of autonomous vehicles. “Gov. Rick Snyder wants us to collaborate, to bring people in, to talk to people and work (these things) out.”
While autonomous vehicles are far from being the norm on Michigan roads, the state’s new laws are bringing the future ever closer.
Last fall an Ann Arbor startup tested self-driving shuttles for Bedrock LLC employees on the streets of downtown Detroit. The demonstration was seen as a milestone in the readiness of self-driving technology in the real world.
The company, May Mobility Inc., calls Michigan home.
“Here’s a company working in Michigan because of this legislation,” Steudle says. “(The founder and CEO) was originally from Boston but he said, ‘We’re going to do this in Michigan because the laws are in place.’”