Commission approves driverless car recommendations

Commission approves driverless car recommendations
The Washington State Transportation Commission has approved recommendations to the legislature regarding statewide policy for driverless vehicles. Photo:

The Washington State Transportation Commission (WTSC) next month will submit a report to Governor Jay Inslee and the state legislature regarding the testing and use of autonomous vehicles (AV). At an Oct. 16 meeting, the commission adopted recommendations made by the Autonomous Vehicle Work Group regarding issues such as insurance mandates to be included in that report.

The work group is composed of seven subcommittees and 34 total members representing numerous state agencies, both legislative chambers, trucking, labor unions and the tech industry. While some work group members emphasized improving public understanding of AV technology, road safety and liability questions have also been highlighted.

Reflecting those concerns by stakeholders was a recommendation from the work group’s liability subcommittee that AV testing companies have at least $5 million in umbrella liability insurance.

Work Group Chair Darrin Grondel told commissioners that states including Nebraska, Nevada New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia have adopted similar insurance mandates.

“I don’t think there’s a science to it. I think when you look at peer states, $5 million dollars seems to be a reasonable amount. We would be reluctant to have a major auto manufacturer say: ‘Well that’s not my system that failed.’”

Grondel added that establishing AV policies similar to other states will make it easier to set up reciprocity agreements. “We don’t want fifty frameworks.”

Another subcommittee recommendation is to integrate the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Cooperative Automated Transportation with policies adopted by work group subcommittees.

One of the issues the statewide framework might address is what new data should be collected in the event of an accident.  WTSC Program Manager Debi Besser told commissioners: “questions that we will need to answer include…’what automotive technology did the vehicle have? Were any automotive systems engaged at the time of the crash? Was the system being used in an area where it’s designed to be. How will we obtain this information?’”

Though much of the focus with AV technology has concerned the implications of driverless cars on the roads, Besser said this new accident data already needs to be collected on vehicles that use advanced driver assistance systems such as Tesla. She also underscored the need for better public understanding between driver-operated vehicles using AV technology and driverless vehicles.

“This knowledge can contribute to misuse of safety technology and delay safety benefits,” she said. “We believe education is one of the most pressing issues that needs to be addressed. People don’t understand how an autonomous vehicle will eventually operate on the roads, and many are fearful.”

The commission will approve its report by Nov. 15.


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