The legislation around driverless cars (or the absence of it) is one of the main concerns among manufacturers and software companies that operate in the field. But the newest set of bills – signed into law by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder last week – are set to change that.
Starting Friday, Michigan allows for the testing, deployment, and, eventually, sale of self-driving vehicles. Only a handful of other states currently have any legal framework around autonomous vehicles in place, according to Melanie Capuano, attorney and counselor at law at Miller Canfield. “But what Michigan has done is allow for a truly driverless car, with no driver in the seat, to be tested and drive on the roads of Michigan,” she explained. “This is just thrilling.”
The new law specifies that only manufacturers will be able to deploy autonomous cars. However, the legal definition of a “manufacturer” is less restrictive than it used to be. “Initially, the bill was very protectionist, allowing only traditional car manufacturers to benefit from the future law,” Capuano said. “But the law actually allows software companies, such as Uber or Google, to participate as well, if they meet a certain criteria, like producing a certain number of cars, or having driven a certain number of miles, or be certified, etc.”
Manufacturing or software startups in the field will have to do a lot more “legwork” or partner with more established players in order to benefit from the law, she said.
Michigan Department of Transportation also provided a much clearer framework around accident liability of driverless cars, requiring self-driving car manufacturers operating a network of vehicles to take full liability for accidents where their car is found at fault. “This law gives comfort to manufacturers as they continue to test and operate these vehicles,” Capuano said.
Other states, including California and Florida, have their own legal framework, but it doesn’t come near to what Michigan has done, the attorney explained. “There will, eventually, be a universal comprehensive federal law surrounding driverless vehicles, and Michigan has done a good base work,” she said.