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Idaho Lawmakers Prep for Driverless Cars

The state is looking to regulate how the vehicles can be insured, who can operate them and what safety standards they have to meet.

(Tribune News Service) -- A bill regulating driverless cars in Idaho has been sent to be amended over concerns that a section requiring that the cars be built so a human test driver can grab the wheel was too restrictive.

Sponsored by Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson and Rep. Steve Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, the bill’s intent is to allow for the testing of “autonomous vehicles” in Idaho, by regulating how they can be insured, who can operate them and what safety standards they have to meet.

The technology hasn’t moved beyond the testing phase yet, although it’s advancing. Google and some car companies have test-driven them. Hartgen, who has had an interest in the topic for a while, told the Times-News Monday that Idaho, with its many long stretches of flat and unbusy roads, is ideally suited for testing.

“What I think is important for Idaho is we should be one of the states who is positioning ourselves for testing and eventual use of autonomous vehicles,” he said.

Hartgen said driverless cars could pose many benefits, from making the highways safer by ending accidents caused by human error, to reducing the need to build more roads by allowing more cars to fit on the existing ones.

“Driverless cars could change many, many aspects of American life,” he said.

Those testifying for the bill at Tuesday’s Senate Transportation Committee hearing included John Hartung, the head of Harbrick, a startup in Moscow that is working on building autonomous vehicles, and Wayne Hoffman, head of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, who said the bill was a compromise between regulation and free-market concerns.

However, Google’s head of state legislative affairs, Ron Barnes, wrote Brackett a letter saying the law assumes driverless cars would be built similarly to cars today, when Google has tested prototypes that didn’t have driver controls at all.

“Mandating that driver controls be part of the vehicle design and anticipating that the person in the car would be able to operate them would remove the potential benefits of AV technology for certain populations” like the elderly or disabled, he wrote.

Barnes also wrote that regulating the cars when the technology is so young could stifle innovation by requiring specific design features.

Jeremy Pisca, a lawyer who was there representing the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, made a similar point.

“We believe that the legislation is, frankly, unnecessary,” he said.

Senators voted to send the law to be amended.

“We might be putting more restrictions there than what we should be,” said Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian.

Another amendment that might be added is one proposed by the insurance industry, to require a device similar to a “black box,” which would record information in case of an accident.

©2015 The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.
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