Transportation

Utah Looks Ahead with Expanded AV Legislation

A bill in the Utah House would allow for fully autonomous vehicles to operate on highways — without human drivers.

by / March 6, 2018
Eyragon Eidam/Government Technology
Utah hopes to join the ranks of numerous other states by expanding its embrace of self-driving cars.
 
The Utah State Legislature is considering a bill (HB 371) to allow fully autonomous vehicles to operate on the state’s roadways. The bill would amend AV operations laws currently on the books.
 
“The most significant change in this bill is it authorizes fully autonomous cars on Utah roads and highways. I believe we are the first state to consider this,” said Rep. Robert Spendlove, a Republican representing District 49, and sponsor of HB 371.
 
“An important part of the bill is it explicitly does not require a licensed driver to operate a level 4 or 5 autonomous car,” Spendlove added, pointing out some of the bill’s unique elements. “This is important for those with disabilities or for the very young or elderly. It also starts the serious discussion of liability and insurance issues surrounding the autonomous economy.”
 
For now, the autonomous vehicle bill will remain in the House where it will receive further debate and study.
 
“Because this is such a major change to our state, I am holding the bill this session and we will spend the next several months discussing it in our Transportation Interim Committee,” said Spendlove. “I want to make sure we’re bringing everyone to the table for this discussion and I think the best way to do this is through a series of discussions over the summer and fall.”

Utah is Not Alone in Planning for the AV Onslaught

Utah is hardly alone in its willingness to explore the self-driving car landscape. Arizona has been actively courting AV testing in the state, with companies like Waymo and Uber testing their cars on streets in the Phoenix metro area and Tempe, respectively.
 
Later in the year Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica minivans are set to go driverless as the company begins testing a ride-hailing service. Spendlove’s bill in Utah includes specific language related to transportation network companies like Uber or Lyft, saying fully autonomous vehicles can function as part of a TNC fleet. 
 
California recently approved a change to its autonomous vehicle testing rules, namely, no longer requiring that a human driver be in the self-driving cars. The California Department of Motor Vehicles can begin issuing driverless testing permits on April 2, 2018.
 
Meanwhile, cities like Tampa, Fla.; Austin, Texas; Las Vegas and Boston have experimented with autonomous vehicles in various capacities ranging from shuttles to delivery vehicles.
 
To date, 21 states — Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Vermont — as well as Washington, D.C., have passed legislation related to autonomous vehicles, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Arizona, Washington, Wisconsin and Massachusetts have taken on AVs by enabling testing via executive action.
 
Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation held a “public listening summit” to hear from states, industry, academia and safety advocates related to autonomous vehicle development and the public policy the new technology will require. 
 
“The convergence of technology, users, and an enabling ecosystem is creating the conditions for autonomous vehicles to be deployed around the world,” Derek Kan, under secretary of transportation for policy at USDOT, told the gathering in Washington on March 1. 
 
“Today we are seeing an emerging market for new users,” he added.
 
For Utah’s Spendlove, looking ahead of potential federal policies is worth doing.   
 
“This revolutionary technology is changing the world,” said Spendlove, in a statement last year during a demonstration on AV technology. “Regulations for autonomous vehicles is being and will continue to be addressed by federal and local governments. I want to make certain Utah regulations enhance the development of this technology, not hinder it.”
Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.