A bill that would set the course for driverless delivery in Florida glided through the House Thursday.
The House took up the revised version of the bill (HB 1289) after the Senate hitched on a pair of amendments to the original, House-approved proposal. The bill, which once again passed unanimously in the lower chamber, was presented by sponsor Rep. Fiona McFarland, a Sarasota Republican.
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.
The bill also provides minimum insurance requirements — at least $1 million — the same as those currently in law for autonomous vehicles.
The bill also changes other regulations that don’t make sense for driverless cars. The way St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, the Senate sponsor, described the statute, the driverless vehicles might not even look like regular cars.
The bill cleared the Senate Monday in a 39-1 vote, with Panhandle Republican Sen. George Gainer voting against the measure.
Brandes tacked on two approved amendments.
One such amendment allows the Department of Transportation to set the weight limit of personal delivery vehicles, as opposed to the current statutory weight limit restricting such vehicles to 80 pounds.
The other amendment altered the language in 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. That 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.