The new law is intended to make Florida competitive with other states that have welcomed self-driving vehicles and testing.
Self-driving vehicles without any safety driver in the vehicle will be allowed on Florida roads starting July 1.
As Florida’s governor signed the new bill into law, he stated the intention is to remove “barriers to the advancement of autonomous vehicles” in the state.
Anyone who is onboard is also exempted from laws against texting or other distracted-driving activities in the vehicle.
Starting July 1, it will be legal for fully autonomous vehicles without even a safety driver present to circulate on public roads in Florida. Governor Ron DeSantis put his signature on the new law that is intended to attract self-driving-vehicle makers to the state and make it competitive with Arizona, California, and Nevada, which has autonomous test fleets that Florida wants to compete with. It states: “The bill authorizes operation of a fully autonomous vehicle on Florida roads regardless of whether a human operator is physically present in the vehicle.” The governor signed the bill at the SunTrax high-speed autonomous-vehicle testing facility, currently under construction in central Florida.
There’s an important caveat, though: the law is only for self-driving vehicles that are “equipped with an automated driving system designed to function without a human operator.” That describes Level 4 and 5 self-driving vehicles, which do not yet exist outside of various test programs.
Autonomous vehicles are currently being tested across the country, and some have been involved in crashes on public roads, including a fatal incident involving an Uber self-driving vehicle that hit a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, last year. These crashes are happening even with human safety personnel behind the wheel, as was the case in Tempe, where the onboard safety driver was found to be watching video instead of the road.
Florida’s new law sets requirements for on-demand ride sharing companies that use autonomous vehicles. The list of companies interested in self-driving ride sharing services include Lyft, Maven, and Waymo, in addition to Uber. Under Florida’s new law, these companies would need to provide primary liability coverage of at least $1 million for “death, bodily injury, and property damage” as well as having other other required minimum coverage.
“The reality is that this bill is unlikely to have much impact one way or the other on the development of the technology,” commented Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst for Navigant Research. “Most companies are now taking a measured approach to deployment with the awareness that premature deployment could destroy public trust and lead to extremely costly liability litigation.”
The new Florida law also exempts the operator of a self-driving car from laws forbidding the use of wireless devices or watching a video screen while the car is in motion as long as the automated driving system is engaged.
Via Car and Driver