Lawmakers could consider autonomous vehicle testing in upcoming sessions

07/06/2017 05:21 PM

FRANKFORT – With autonomous vehicles inching closer to public availability, Kentucky may become the latest testing ground for driverless cars and trucks.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation on self-driving vehicles, and governors in four other states have signed executive orders relating to regulating them, Anne Teigen, program principal on transportation for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said during an Interim Joint Committee on Transportation meeting Thursday.

A workgroup within the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has examined the topic for about a year, and Jason Siwula, assistant state highway engineer, says the cabinet has come up with possible legislative proposals to get ahead of the autonomous vehicle movement.

Some points of exploration within the cabinet include definitions for autonomous vehicles and operators, authorizing driverless car testing, licensing and registering self-driving vehicles, and whether emergency medical personnel and law enforcement can use autonomous vehicles in their work, Siwula said.

“These are all important things to consider,” he said.

Siwula said autonomous vehicles can ultimately lead to safer roads since the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration attributes 94 percent of vehicle crashes to human error.

There’s also a financial aspect as well, with Siwula saying that fuel savings could reach 5 or 10 percent. That could lead to lower prices on goods that are shipped with autonomous tractor-trailers, he said.

Some trucking companies are exploring the possibility of “platooning” their fleets, which would allow partially autonomous semis to electronically drive close to others on the same routes and at designated speeds.

“Most states currently have laws on the books that require a certain following distance for heavy vehicles, so at least eight states have passed legislation to just modify their follow-too-closely law in order to exempt truck platooning,” Teigen said.

Rep. Marie Rader, a McKee Republican who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said the legislature should consider bills on autonomous vehicles in upcoming sessions, but not all lawmakers were sold on the concept.

Sen. C.B. Embry, R-Morgantown, said he believes self-driving vehicles will cost jobs and won’t make highways as safe as expected.

“I don’t know how these vehicles would respond in instant problems like a deer in front of the car or black ice, a mudslide or rockslide, a passenger having a heart attack or stroke and needing immediate attention,” Embry said.

Teigen said Embry’s concerns were “100 percent valid.”

“You could think of thousands of more scenarios, and I think that’s the big problem,” she said. “… Those question are certainly asked, and that’s why these hundreds of thousands of miles of vehicle testing with some of these products, they’re producing a lot of data to see what they’ve encountered.”


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