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Paving the way: Ron DeSantis signs bill allowing self-driving vehicles in Florida

“You’re going to see more and more companies coming here.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed into law a measure that could make Florida ground zero for the testing of “autonomous vehicles” (AV) — self-driving cars. 

“Signing this legislation paves the way for Florida to continue as a national leader in transportation innovation and technological advancement,” DeSantis said.

The bill (HB 311), sponsored by Republican state Rep. Jason Fischer of Jacksonville, defines autonomous vehicles as any car with hardware and software that make it capable of operating without a driver. Of prime importance, it makes it legal for autonomous vehicles to operate on Florida roads. 

“This means Florida takes the pole position in the deployment of autonomous vehicles in the country,” said St. Pete’s GOP state Sen. Jeff Brandes, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate. “You’re going to see more and more companies coming here.”

The autonomous vehicle bill was one of the most lobbied issues during this year’s legislative session, having support from major players like Uber, Lyft, Google’s Waymo and General Motors. The Florida Chamber of Commerce also put its lobbying heft behind the bill.

“This would not be possible without the support from our staunch champions in the legislature, particularly the bill sponsors: Senator Brandes and Rep. Fischer,” said Tesla lobbyist Taylor Biehl. “Florida now leads the nation in AV technologies, while today’s signing only further demonstrates Florida’s unwavering commitment to an innovation economy.”

Tesla also backed the bill. Biehl called Thursday’s bill signing a “proud day” for his firm’s “favorite client.”

“Those companies were all looking for certainty and I think that’s what they really needed to advance,” Brandes said. He expects companies to begin announcing new projects and test programs within the coming months: “It’s right around the corner.”

The bill represents a capstone for both Brandes and Fischer who have for several years been sponsoring legislation to pave the way for an autonomous future in Florida.

The duo successfully sponsored legislation to create SunTrax in Lakeland, which serves as an autonomous vehicle testing ground. They also backed legislation allowing driverless cars on some roads, which allowed programs like the one in The Villages where a driverless shuttle operates on-demand service for residents.

Brandes

Brandes has long heralded the emergence of autonomous vehicles as a mobility solution that will help Florida cities provide better options for residents and visitors to get around. But it’s also a safety issue, he said.

“Ninety-five percent of all accidents are caused by human error,” Brandes said. “Often they’re problems with technology like distracted driving. We believe this is a technology solution and many technology problems require technology solutions. The world is getting more shared, it’s getting more electric and it’s getting more self-driving.”

In addition to allowing autonomous vehicle operation on Florida roads, the law also exempts autonomous vehicle operators and companies from certain laws in the event of an accident as long as the car or its operator notifies police.

The bill also includes updated insurance requirements for autonomous vehicles.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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