Jeff Brandes’ autonomous vehicle bill steered through second Senate committee
Driverless delivery could become a reality in Florida.

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The empty vehicles would not drive above 35 mph.

A Senate bill is paving the way for driverless delivery in Florida.

The legislation (SB 1620) regulating autonomous vehicles unanimously passed the Community Affairs Committee Wednesday.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes painted a picture of how he sees the future of delivery if autonomous vehicles are allowed.

“These are largely going to be delivery-type of automated vehicles. You will order your burrito, and it will come in an automated vehicle,” Brandes said. “Anything from Walmart will ultimately come in an automated vehicle delivered to your house via an app. You’ll press a button. It’ll open up a door, and you’ll be able to grab that pizza or whatever tchotchke you bought from Amazon that day directly from the vehicle.”

Brandes cited cultural shifts during the COVID-19 pandemic for accelerating the idea of autonomous delivery.

The empty vehicles would be limited to roads with speed limits of 45 mph or less, though the vehicles will only move at speeds of 35 mph or less.

The insurance criteria for autonomous vehicles would be higher than most insurance for a vehicle with a regular driver.

The bill also changes other regulations that don’t make sense for driverless cars. The way Brandes described the statute, the driverless vehicles might not even look like regular cars.

“There are certain things that we require in vehicles that don’t make sense if you don’t need a human operator. For example, do you need a rearview mirror if there’s no human operator? Do you need side mirrors if there’s no human operator? Do you need a windshield if there’s no human operator,” Brandes asked.

In a previous committee hearing, members expressed worry in the event of an accident, a driverless car would continue bumbling along, oblivious to any mayhem caused, and a representative from UPS lamented the loss of delivery driver jobs.

But Wednesday, no opponents of the bill revealed themselves, an absence that could speak to the legislation’s inevitability.

Florida had already opened the door to driverless vehicles, starting in 2019 when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation (HB 311) removing obstacles to testing self-driving vehicles. The bill removed language allowing licensed drivers to operate such vehicles, saying instead that the autonomous driving system is considered the operator, with no person needed. That measure was aimed at luring self driving vehicle makers to the state.

The Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) is participating in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safety Testing Initiative. As part of that initiative, DOT is constructing SunTrax, the nation’s first state-owned autonomous vehicle testing facility, estimated to be completed in late 2021.

If the bill makes it all the way through the legislative process, the faceless vehicles could start driving on Florida roads as early as July of this year, when the bill would take effect.

“This really will open up Florida to a whole new series of options for delivery and will begin to reshape our cities as over time as more and more products are delivered,” Brandes said.

The bill now heads to Senate Rules Committee.

House companion legislation (HB 1289) hasn’t moved yet.

Haley Brown

Haley Brown is a capitol reporter for FloridaPolitics.com. Her background includes covering the West Virginia Legislature for a regular segment on WVVA-TV in Bluefield called Capitol Beat. Her reporting in southern West Virginia also included city issues, natural disasters, crime, human interest, and anchoring weekend newscasts. Haley is a Florida native. You can reach her at [email protected]



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