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Bill creates legal definition of driverless cars

Bill creates legal definition of driverless cars

The Washington State Transportation Commission (WTSC)’s Autonomous Vehicle Work Group has for several years looked at how to effectively regulate driverless cars operating on public roads in a way that ensures public safety while not impeding testing and deployment. Now, SB 5460 sponsored by Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-34) would create a legal definition for driverless cars operating in the state, though some stakeholders testifying at a Feb. 18 public hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee opposed provisions that would give the state Department of Licensing (DOL) additional rulemaking authority.

One of the challenges in defining AVs is that in technical terms many of them are not fully autonomous. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) classifies autonomous vehicles in four levels, while the Society of Automotive Engineering International (SAEI) standard has six levels. SB 5460 uses SAEI’s standard to define driverless cars as those at level four or five. The bill also removes an existing ban on motor vehicles equipped with screens visible to the driver while operating on a public road.

A member of the Autonomous Vehicle Work Group, Nguyen told colleagues that the bill “is really trying to build a framework to thoughtfully prepare for autonomous vehicles in Washington state.”

Also supporting the bill was WSTC Executive Director Reema Griffith, who said it “removes some basic obstacles that currently impair the advancement and more active testing in our state.”

However, some industry stakeholders who were testifying spoke out against bill language giving DOL rulemaking authority regarding the agency’s self-certification testing pilot program. DOL Legislative Policy Director Beau Perschbacher argued that “having the legislature clarify our rulemaking authority is helpful in terms of being able to administer the program effectively. (It) provides a little more agility in administering the program.”

Yet, Waymo lobbyist and Autonomous Vehicle Work Group Executive Committee member Brent Ludeman told the committee that “we’re opposed to the broad rulemaking authority. We’re concerned about how this broad rulemaking could be used and the impact it could have on slowing down testing—and ultimately – deployment.”

Samantha Kersul serves as TechNet’s Executive Director for Washington and the Northwest. She told the committee that the provision regarding DOL’s rulemaking authority should “be narrowed or the provision removed entirely.” She added that aspects of HB 2676 enacted last year regarding testing requirements for AVs has been unfinished due to the pandemic. “We ask that the bill’s implementation date be pushed out a year.”

SB 5460 is scheduled for executive action on Feb. 22.

TJ Martinell is a native Washingtonian and award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Bellevue, he’s been involved in the news industry since working at his high school newspaper.

His investigative reporting for various community newspapers in the Puget Sound region has been recognized by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

A graduate of Eastern Washington University, he has a B.A. in journalism and was the news editor of EWU’s student university newspaper.

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