Jacksonville State Lawmaker Is Pushing To Get Autonomous Cars On The Road

Mar 20, 2019

With self-driving technology growing increasingly common, two state lawmakers want to revamp the rules of the road to prepare for autonomous cars.

Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, is sponsoring a House Bill (HB 311) that would get rid of driver’s license requirements when operating fully autonomous cars, in addition to allowing the vehicles to operate even without an occupant.

The bill would also lift restrictions currently placed on drivers to curb distracted driving like watching videos, so long as the automated driving system is engaged.

Citing a 2017 US Department of Transportation study, Fischer said 94 percent of crashes are caused by human error.  

“Autonomous, also known as self-driving vehicles, have the potential to significantly reduce, if not eliminate, this error” said Fischer. “And in doing so, transform mobility for Americans and redefine the automotive and transportation industries altogether.”

The legislation, which cleared its second committee Tuesday, would authorize the Florida Turnpike Enterprise to fund and develop autonomous testing facilities to study autonomous vehicle technology.    

“We must address the existing laws governing motor vehicle operations that did not contemplate a driverless future when they were written,” said Fischer. “This bill removes barriers to self-driving vehicles on public roads of the state.”

Fischer said he wants to encourage companies to begin testing and deploying driverless cars in Florida, which won him the support of many in the industry.

During Tuesday’s House Transportation and Tourism Appropriation Subcommittee, the bill got the backing of representatives from Uber, Tesla, and the Alliance of Automobile manufacturers.  

But Florida Justice Association spokesman William Cotterall said he’s concerned about the accountability issues driverless cars pose.

“This equipment and this software at some point in time will fail and right now Florida is the testing ground,” said Cotterall, who urged lawmakers to clarify in the language who is liable for damages caused by accidents. “Right now the way it’s phrased, the operator of the vehicle is the software rather than either the owner of the vehicle or the manufacturer, and what that means is that every single case will be a products liability case.”

Rep.  Joe Geller, D-Aventura, who voted in favor of the bill, said he shares some of Cotterall’s concerns. But it’s an important piece of legislation, he said.  

“This is the future and if you stand in the way of the future, you put yourself in a wrong position,” he said. “Sure we have to work out the details, but we hear constantly about the problems caused by all kinds of distracted driving.”      

Fischer said he’d continue addressing the concerns that were raised.  

Sen. Jeff Brandes, St. Petersburg-R, introduced a companion bill. Last year, the pair also sponsored similar bills.

Fischer’s bill is headed to the state Affairs committee.