Florida Makes Tesla Autopilot, Self-Driving Cars of the Future Street Legal

Autonomous cars need rules before they can be of any use.


The federal government has no idea how they are going to regulate autonomous cars. Industry leaders from Google and GM tried to express the need for federal regulations to loosen so the technology can truly blossom back, but self-driving car laws still vary state by state and even county by county.

This month, Florida legislators decided that they aren’t going to wait any longer. Recently passed House Bill 7027 (2016) allows consumer use of autonomous vehicles starting July 1. Of course, consumers can’t buy autonomous cars yet (Tesla’s Autopilot is the closest thing already on the market), but Florida doesn’t want to be left behind when people finally can buy fully autonomous vehicles.

This law could help guide future state and federal laws. If, of course, the federal government can come together and pass meaningful legislation before cars start driving themselves — which may come sooner rather than later via a $1,000 autonomous retrofit kit.

The bill answers some of the major questions plaguing the autonomous car industry. For example: Who is liable when a self-driving car crashes?

If a person retrofits their car into autonomy, then the owner is liable — rather than the manufacturer of the vehicle. The bill is more vague for cars originally developed to be autonomous, and states that the manufacturer is only responsible if an “alleged defect was present in the vehicle as originally manufactured.”

Liability guarantees won’t be as hot a topic in the future, though. Autonomous vehicles will be safer than human drivers, because computers don’t get tired, distracted, or drunk.

“An autonomous vehicle will never fail to put on a turn signal, it will never fail to stop at a stop light or stop sign,” Charles Reinholtz from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University told Eyewitness News 9.

Hopefully autonomous cars won’t crash into any more buses or veer toward oncoming traffic anymore, either.

Florida’s bill requires cars have an “operator” with a valid driver’s license inside. The autonomous vehicle must be able to alert the operator if something goes wrong, and the operator must be able to make the vehicle stop. The bill doesn’t say there has to be a steering wheel or a foot brake, but the operator will have to be a few steps more alert than someone who is, say, zoned out and watching TV.

The bill also addresses issues not related to the operation of the vehicle. Most importantly, it requires legislators to “assess capital investment and other measures necessary to improve infrastructure.” Infrastructure is one of the least sexy things legislators do, but it’s also one of the most vital. There won’t be autonomous cars if there aren’t any roads on which they can drive.

The bill puts Florida on a list with 7 other states and Washington D.C. that have enacted autonomous vehicle legislation. State by state definitions of what is, and is not, allowed in the autonomous sector is important, but if there aren’t interstate guidelines, autonomous vehicles will never reach their full potential. Hopefully House Bill 7027 can help guide the federal government toward those nation-wide laws.

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