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Michigan Mulls Law To Allow Self-Driving Cars

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Michigan state capitol, Lansing (photo by Brian Charles Watson)

Michigan state capitol, Lansing (photo by Brian Charles Watson)

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First, there was Nevada. Then, California and Florida. Now, according to Detroit News, Michigan is considering legislation that would allow autonomous vehicles on the state's roads.

It's not surprising that Michigan would debate such a bill. In fact, as the auto capitol of America, we're a little stunned that state officials hadn't considered it sooner.

What seems to have lit a fire under legislators' feet is the threat of losing revenue to other states. State Sen. Mike Kowall, for example, says that parts supplier Continental recently began exploring the field of autonomous vehicles and thought about shifting some of its work to Nevada. Kowall has assured Continental that he and his colleagues are working quickly to pass legislation to make self-driving cars legal in Michigan.

And he's right. The bill in question enjoys bipartisan support, and it's an initiative that was recently championed by Governor Rick Snyder in his state of the state address. Committees are hearing testimony from Google, General Motors, and others to refine the bill so that it addresses concerns like liability in the case of accidents.

Though there's no timeline for the bill's passage, we do know that it would require a human in the driver's seat of autonomous vehicles, who could take over in case of emergency. It would also create special license plates for self-driving cars, just as we've seen elsewhere.

Our take

It's wise for Michigan to tackle the issue of self-driving vehicles. Although fully autonomous cars and trucks are years away from reaching the mass market, bits and pieces of autonomous technology -- like adaptive cruise control, brake assist, and lane assist -- are already becoming standard features for many automakers. Giving Detroit the tools to test this kind of technology in its own backyard seems like a very smart move.

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