LANSING, Mich. -- The state Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation intended to help developers of self-driving cars in Michigan.
The four-bill package, championed by lawmakers as the first of its kind, would allow autonomous vehicles to be driven on roads in the state for any reason, not only while being tested. Supporters, including such automakers as General Motors and Ford Motor Co., say the legislation is necessary to establish Michigan as a leader in the nascent industry.
The bills each cleared the Senate 36-0 during the Legislature's first week back from summer recess. They now move to the House for consideration.
Among other things, the legislation would permit a computer system to act as the driver of a vehicle when the system is active, extend liability protections to mechanics who work on automated vehicles and authorize in statute the planned American Center for Mobility at the former GM Willow Run facility in Ypsilanti, Mich.
The legislation would turn "the eyes of the world once again on Michigan for its engineering and its research," said Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, a co-sponsor on the package along with Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake Township, and Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor.
"It's a different kind of car-building," Horn said on the Senate floor prior to voting, "but car-building nonetheless."
Michigan is among seven states and Washington, D.C., with laws on the books to regulate autonomous vehicle development.
Kowall said the legislation updates state laws passed in 2013 that initially allowed driverless cars on Michigan roads only during testing. He likened the technological changes brought by the mobility industry to the invention of the automobile at the turn of the 20th century.
Gov. Rick Snyder's administration supports the bills. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. in July finalized a total of $20 million for the planned American Center for Mobility, which would serve as a testing facility for connected and driverless cars.
The project's landholding entity, Willow Run Arsenal of Democracy Landholdings LLP, agreed to buy the 311-acre Willow Run site for $1.2 million from the MEDC and Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust, or RACER Trust, which was tasked with cleanup and redevelopment of former GM plants after its 2009 bankruptcy.
Separate bills that would make hacking into electronic vehicle systems a felony crime in Michigan remain pending in the Senate's judiciary committee.