SALT LAKE CITY — A bill giving the green light to driverless vehicles on Utah roads moved unanimously through the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Committee Monday.
"This is the beginning," the Senate sponsor of HB101, Sen. Gregg Buxton, R-Roy, told the committee, describing autonomous vehicle technology as helping to save "tens of thousands" of lives now lost to accidents caused by human error.
Intended to set the state up to deal with the legal ramifications of semi-autonomous and, eventually, fully autonomous vehicles, the bill sponsored by Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, has been in the works for four years.
Buxton said as technology develops, the cars need to move from test tracks to the open road. He said such testing would be tightly controlled and limited to specific areas before being allowed in city traffic.
Blaine Leonard, technology and innovation engineer for the Utah Department of Transportation, said companies behind autonomous technology are reticent to do testing in states where it is not explicitly allowed in law.
Leonard said completely autonomous vehicles are "a ways off," possibly five to 10 years away from reality. He said he expects there to be a mix of levels of autonomous control in vehicles on the roads throughout his lifetime.
Both Buxton and Leonard said laws about such vehicles will continue to have to be updated.9 comments on this story
Sen. Kathleen Riebe D-Cottonwood Heights, asked about the safeguards in place for drivers sharing the road with such vehicles, citing an example of someone "walking off a cliff" because their computerized map said that's where a trail went.
"It sounds funny, but it's not," Riebe said, adding drivers need to be protected.
"I don’t think there's a simple to answer to, 'Do we have this covered,'" Leonard said. Courts will have to determine responsibility in accidents involving vehicles capable of autonomous operation, he noted.
The bill, which has already passed the House, now goes to the full Senate.