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Michigan looks to lead on regulation of autonomous vehicles

LANSING — In 2013, Michigan legislators adopted the state’s first laws for driverless vehicles, allowing them to share the road with live motorists only while being tested.

That legislation helped Michigan become an early leader in the race to build a self-driving car, said Mike Kowall, a state senator from Oakland County who sponsored the bills.

But for Michigan to win — especially against the tech giants of Silicon Valley, which are developing their own prototypes — he said the state also needs to lead by regulation, before a patchwork of rules crops up across state lines.

Kowall, R-White Lake Township, said he plans to introduce a bill package in the Senate that would allow autonomous vehicles on Michigan roads for any reason, not just during testing.

A set of bills introduced last week would make it illegal to hack into connected vehicle systems. The bills would make that a felony that could land an offender in prison for life. The rest of the package, which Kowall said is expected to follow soon, would establish liability insurance requirements for connected equipment manufacturers in case their products malfunction, and formally authorize use of the former General Motors Co. powertrain plant at Willow Run Airport near Ypsilanti for the new American Center for Mobility project.

“Michigan is the home of the automobile,” said Kowall, who hopes Michigan’s standards could be incorporated into federal rules. “If our guys are saying, ‘Yep, that’s going to work,’ that’s the same thing they’re going to be telling the feds.”

“This is all brand-new territory that we’re delving into.”

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