Lawmakers Weigh Creation of Task Force on Self-Driving Vehicles

By Nate Rabner

ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 13, 2015)—Self-driving vehicles would get a careful review by a state task force under a bill presented to a House of Delegates committee Thursday.

Delegate Pamela Beidle, D-Anne Arundel, re-introduced the legislation to propose a two-year Task Force to Study Issues Related to the Use of Self-Driving Vehicles. The group would bring together legislators, Department of Transportation officials, automakers and insurance representatives to review research on autonomous cars and trucks as well as laws that permit the vehicles in other states.

Nevada, California, Michigan, Florida and the District of Columbia currently allow the testing of self-driving cars.

“Self-driving vehicles are really happening,” Beidle said. “This is not something in the future. It’s happening right now, and we as a state really need to develop some guidelines.”

Ragina Cooper Averella, public and government affairs manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the task force would make important conclusions about the effects of self-driving vehicles on insurance, the economy and traffic safety.

“We just know that there needs to be more research done in this area,” Averella said. “There are lots of questions regarding autonomous vehicles and how they would be used.”

Donald Hannon, transportation consultant with the eastern regional conference of the Council of State Governments, said the conference would provide research findings and information from other states to help the task force determine best practices for self-driving vehicle policy.

“It’s going to be cultural-changing,” Hannon said. “I mean, we are a car-centric society, and this is going to change our view of what car ownership is, and the investment in infrastructure—it is the biggest thing that’s happening in terms of transportation.”

In 2014, a bill to allow self-driving vehicle testing on highways died in a state Senate committee. A previous version of the bill also failed—despite interest from automobile manufacturers and Google—which Beidle attributed to the election year. The task force is estimated to cost the state $200,000.

The task force would include representatives from the House of Delegates and Senate; the Attorney General’s Office; the Motor Vehicle Administration, State Highway Administration and Maryland Transportation Authority; State Police and the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association; AAA Mid-Atlantic and the automobile insurance industry; and trade organizations, the Association of Global Automakers and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Honda North America, a member of the Association of Global Automakers, submitted a memo to delegates that encouraged consideration of other states’ autonomous vehicle policies and the question of who could operate and service the vehicles.

Other groups requested to be added to the task force’s proposed membership this year, including the Maryland Insurance Administration, which regulates insurance in the state, and the Maryland Motor Truck Administration, a trucking trade organization.

Beidle said the widespread interest in the task force is encouraging, if potentially logistically awkward.

“My greatest concern right now is that the task force doesn’t get too big,” she said. “A lot of people are very interested.”

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