Google has proposed changes to two bills intended to advance autonomous driving in Michigan, citing concerns that companies that don’t build cars -- such as the Silicon Valley tech giant -- would be excluded from their protections.
The legislation -- Senate bills 995 and 997 -- allow for the regulation and research of self-driving technology within the state. Both bills passed the Senate unanimously as part of a four-bill package on Sept. 7 and were presented to the House of Representatives in a hearing on Tuesday.
Michigan’s debate is being watched closely by the auto industry and Silicon Valley because of its possible future influence on similar laws that could be considered by other states.
Longtime auto executive John Krafcik, who heads Google’s car project, wrote in a letter to state Rep. Bradford Jacobsen, chairman of the House Communications and Technology Committee, that language in the legislation could exclude non-automakers from deploying their technology in the state.
Under the current legislation, only a “motor vehicle manufacturer” -- an entity that has “manufactured and distributed” vehicles in the U.S. -- can operate an autonomous ride-hailing network in the state. It also requires that autonomous vehicle fleets must be “supplied or controlled by a motor vehicle manufacturer,” which could potentially bar companies that aren’t automakers from operating other manufacturers’ vehicles retrofitted with their technology.
Google and other technology companies may not be subject to the protections of these bills because they don’t sell cars to consumers, Krafcik wrote.
“While the current bill coming out of the Senate may be suitable for traditional motor vehicle manufacturers, we are concerned that ambiguities [in the bills] could be read to exclude other innovated [autonomous vehicle] technology,” the letter read.
Krafcik also suggested revisions to the bills, including deleting the distribution requirement in the definition of a vehicle manufacturer and adding manufacturers of autonomous technology to entities permitted to deploy automated vehicle fleets.
Jacobsen did not respond to Automotive News’ request to comment, however, Michigan Sen. Mike Kowall told The Detroit News that the Legislature is evaluating Google’s revisions and will release an update in time for an hearing expected to be held next week.
Should the Legislature take no action on Google’s concerns, the company may have to work with automakers to get its driving systems on Michigan roads. In May, Google partnered with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to manufacture 100 fully autonomous Pacificas.
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