Autonomous vehicle delivery bill clears Senate

autonomous vehicles
The legislation cleared the House unanimously on Friday. 

A bill that would pave the way for driverless delivery in Florida cruised through the Senate Monday.

The Senate took up the House version of the bill (HB 1289), presented by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes. The bill passed 39-1, with Panhandle Republican Sen. George Gainer voting against the measure. The legislation cleared the House unanimously on Friday.

The bill authorizes the operation of low-speed autonomous delivery vehicles as defined by the federal government. 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.

“Florida has truly become a leader in this conversation,” Brandes said. “We’re seeing more and more of this conversation, and so this Senate bill really seeks to continue that conversation.”

The bill also provides minimum insurance requirements — at least $1 million —  the same as those currently in law for autonomous vehicles.

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

“If we see one thing through COVID, it’s the acceleration of delivery,” Brandes said. “Many of these new vehicles that are being designed are never going to be designed with a human driver in mind, and specifically for the delivery model, you’re going to see groceries and your pharmacy orders, all of those things being delivered by self driving vehicles in the future.”

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 some challenges in Florida law as relates to that. For example, does the vehicle need to have a front windshield?” Does it need to have sideview mirrors? Do you have a rear view mirror?” Brandes said. “These things are contemplated today in vehicles and Florida law, and so that’s what this seeks to address.”

Sen. Ed Hooper, a Pinellas County Republican, expressed concern about the technology leading to accidents.

I’m concerned that a little old driver like me may come over a hill and run into the back of one of these things, and cause not only damage, but injury or death,” Hooper said.I know there’s insurance, but is this world ready to have unmanned, or unwomaned, whichever is the more appropriate, autonomous vehicles that, to me, from what I can gather, are roughly 500 pounds each.”

Similar concerns were shared at previous committee hearings.

Brandes did tack on two amendments, both of which were approved on the floor.

One such amendment allows the Department of Transportation to set the weight limit of personal delivery vehicles, as opposed to the current statute weight limit restricting such vehicles to 80 pounds.

The other amendment altered the language of the bill to be more inclusive to autonomous vehicles, changing the phrase “steering wheel” to “steering mechanism.”

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.

FDOT is participating in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safety Testing Initiative. As part of that initiative, FDOT 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.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected]

One comment

  • Eric Werner

    April 28, 2021 at 8:48 am

    Are you sure you have the speeds correct in this article? I thought LSV were defined as below.

    A Low-Speed Vehicle (LSV) is a street-legal, four-wheeled electric vehicle with a top speed of 25 mph and a gross vehicle weight rating of less than 3,000 lb. Most states allow LSVs to drive on roads marked 35 mph or less. Low-speed vehicles are typically electric, with a range of about 30 miles.

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