It is now legal to test self-driving vehicles in Colorado. Governor John Hickenlooper signed legislation into law Thursday that permits public testing of self-driving vehicles. After getting permission from the state, the only requirement of Senate Bill 213 is that self-driving vehicles need to obey all of the existing rules of the road.
Colorado becomes the 17th state to pass self-driving vehicles legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). The other states are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and Vermont. Washginton D.C. has also passed legislation, and governors in Arizona, Massachusetts and Wisconsin have issued executive orders related to self-driving vehicles vehicles.
“We were very clear in writing the law that we’re not changing any of those other [driving] laws. Obviously, seatbelts is one of them. Turning indicators, moving aside for emergency vehicles – all of those laws still have to be followed,” says state Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs Hill. “If you get into a car and don’t fasten your seatbelt, you’re the one liable. It’s not your car’s job to make sure you as the owner are doing your job.”
Senate Bill 213 was meet with some controversy when introduced in March 2017. Opponents of the bill expressed concerns about the safety of self-driving vehicles and requested language about a backup human driver be added to the bill. Supporters of the bill noted the benefits self-driving vehicles offer disabled people, however, and a local farmer discussed how his autonomous tractor has reduced accidents at night.
Colorado has a program called RoadX that is using “21st century technology and ingenuity to solve our current infrastructure challenges,” which includes some of the most congested metro roadways in the country, and thus constant road maintenance, due to the state’s 50 percent population growth in the last 20 years.
You may remember Colorado was home to the first delivery made by an Otto self-driving truck. A modified 18-wheeler outfitted with dozens of cameras and sensors drove 120 miles on Oct. 20, 2016 carrying 51,744 cans of Budweiser from Fort Collins, Colo. to Colorado Springs.
The human truck driver was out of the driver’s seat for the entire highway portion of the trip, monitoring the self-driving system from the back of the truck. The human driver did intervene during city driving and to back up the 18-wheeler towards the loading dock at its final destination.
Of course, the trip was carefully planned with a police detail trailing behind the self-driving truck at a time (1 am) when traffic was light. And at the time of the trip, Shailen Bhatt, executive director of Colorado’s Department of Transportation, said it’ll be a few years before self-driving trucks are transporting goods on a regular basis.
“I would tell any truck driver now that I don’t think the public is going to accept driverless trucks driving down the roadway without a driver in the cab,” Bhatt said. “I think it provides the public some assurance that a driver is still in the truck because the technology is still brand new.
“The way I see this working in the future is that when truckers get tired, as all humans do, the self-driving technology would take over and allow the driver to rest in the sleeper berth. Then when the driver is rested, they would get back behind the wheel and drop off their load. I see a hybrid of this in the medium-term of where truck drivers will still be in the trucks.”