Michigan, America’s traditional home for the gas-guzzling car, is on track to become the first U.S. state where it is legal to operate a self-driving car without a driver at the steering wheel. The state Senate unanimously passed a package of bills on Wednesday that would also legalize self-driving cars without steering wheels or pedals, as well as allowing for the decommissioning of public roads for autonomous driving test centers.
“We’re moving into the next century, ladies and gentlemen,” majority leader Mike Kowall, a Republican from White Lake that sponsored some of the bills, told the Senate.
The state has made big steps in positioning itself as the leading center of self-driving technology. Michigan politicians have previously proposed bills cracking down on autonomous car hackers, strengthening punishments against those that interfere with vehicle operation. In May, Google announced plans to build a Chrysler self-driving car development center in the state.
Michigan has big competition, though. It’s one of eight states where self-driving cars are legal, a group that includes California and Florida. In the case of Google, while the company wants to develop self-driving Chryslers in Michigan, testing will be undertaken in California where Google owns a private test track. The bills’ proposed changes around test site grounds could encourage manufacturers to test in Michigan instead.
The bills will now need approval from the state’s House of Representatives. Kevin Cotter, a Republican from Mt. Pleasant and the House speaker, told the Detroit Free Press that he wants to start work on the bills as soon as possible.
“It sounds very appealing but we want to spend some more time with that package. I think we can move that yet this year,” Cotter told the publication. “It’s something that would be a good step in Michigan and allow the state to be out front. This could be a real game-changer in Michigan.”