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Kentucky Governor Vetoes Bill Legalizing Self-Driving Cars

Criticizing House Bill 7 for moving too quickly toward putting autonomous vehicles on the road without human supervision, Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed it Friday. Beshear said AVs should have a testing period before they can drive in the state.

A self-driving vehicle is shown, with its front facing the camera.
Experimental autonomous vehicle arrives in Miami Tuesday, December 8, 2020.
Carl Juste/TNS
(TNS) — Gov. Andy Beshear has pumped the brakes on a bill that would legalize and regulate self-driving cars on Kentucky roads.

The governor on Friday issued a veto of House Bill 7, which was narrowly passed out of the GOP-dominated state legislature last week.

Beshear criticized the bill as moving too quickly toward autonomous vehicles getting on the road without human supervision. He said, specifically, that there should be a testing period for such cars before they’re allowed to drive in Kentucky.

“Opening Kentucky’s highways and roads to fully autonomous vehicles should occur only after careful study and consideration and an extensive testing period with a licensed human being behind the wheel,” Beshear wrote in his veto message.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Josh Bray, R- Mt. Vernon, does include a trial period for semi-trucks and other vehicles that weigh more than 62,000 pounds. For two years after the effective date of the bill, such autonomous vehicles still need to have an appropriately licensed human driver on board.

Under the bill, driverless vehicles would be subject to the same legal requirements as traditional vehicles, including state registration, a state title and proof of car insurance.

Additionally, House Bill 7 requires owners to submit a “law enforcement interaction plan” to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Kentucky State Police. That plan would outline procedures for handling accidents, towing, or any public safety risks posed by the autonomous vehicle.

When an autonomous vehicle is operational, the car’s owner would be considered the licensed driver.

The bill received significant pushback from such union groups as Teamsters Local 89 in Louisville. During one of the first days the bill was on the Senate floor — it was held there for weeks before getting final passage — the group held a rally against the bill in front of the Senate steps.

Jason Moore, 47, was one of many truck drivers railing against the bill that day. Moore has driven a truck for ABF Freight almost all of his adult life — a million miles without an accident or a single traffic ticket, he said.

A Meade County resident, Moore told the Herald-Leader he fears not only will autonomous vehicles threaten his own livelihood,but they’ll also threaten the safety of Kentucky families.

“I’m not against technology, but this just isn’t the place for it,” Moore said. “With my family and your family and everybody else’s families on the highways, you don’t want big trucks screaming up and down the highway dependent on a computer to control them.”

Several other states have legalized fully autonomous vehicles, with Florida and California being early adopters.

Because the legislature passed House Bill 7 right before going into the veto break period, they have time to override Beshear’s veto.

They did not have the time to do so when the same thing happened with a similar bill last year. That bill got held up in a rare move that proved the power of Beshear’s veto pen — seldom few of his vetoes have withstood the legislature’s override power — because it was passed after the veto break, leaving the legislature no opportunity to override the veto.

Veto overrides require a majority vote from both chambers of the state legislature.

While the House gave House Bill 7 overwhelming 61-31 passage, the Senate passed it 20-18, its closest vote of approval this year.

©2024 Lexington Herald-Leader, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.