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Autonomous vehicles: the time is now, per JTA.

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‘Autonomous vehicles’ bill advances despite liability concerns

Despite lingering questions, mostly about liability, a House panel on Wednesday unanimously cleared a proposal that would encourage autonomous vehicles in Florida.

The legislation (HB 353), sponsored by Sanford Republican Jason Brodeur and Jacksonville Republican Jason Fischer, aims to update sections of Florida’s motor vehicle laws that “require or presume” there’s a human behind the wheel.

Fischer told lawmakers in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee he is currently working with “industry partners and some of the consumer groups” to address concerns in the bill as it heads to its next committee.

For instance, back in 2012 there was a $5 million bond requirement for autonomous vehicle operators, but that has been removed from the current legislation.

Florida legislators are working on such legislation concurrently with Congress, who would trump the state’s efforts in many capacities.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in September that would allow automakers to obtain exemptions to deploy up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards in the first year, a cap that would rise to 100,000 vehicles annually over three years.

James W. Guarnieri from the Florida Justice Association cautioned the committee that they needed to make sure they included liability language in their bill.

“You can’t hold a piece of software accountable,” he said. “That has to be the manufacturer, or the designer, or the technology or the software who is controlling those vehicles.”

The lack of any liability provision in the current bill worried Miami Gardens Democrat Barbara Watson.

“I think it’s important that we get this right,” she said. “We just can’t give carte blanche—we have to make sure that we do this correctly.”

Five years ago, Florida was on the leading edge of states in implementing autonomous vehicles, but has fallen behind in recent years. A companion bill in the Senate (SB 712) is sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes.

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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