A Colorado legislative proposal meant in part to attract automated car entrepreneurs advanced in the state Senate on Tuesday. The bill is being promoted by its sponsors for being ahead of the curve nationwide and welcomed by the burgeoning industry.
Supporters played down public-safety and job-loss concerns posed by driverless car technology, arguing that the bill establishes a regulatory framework for the state where there is none, even as driverless vehicle experiments are beginning to take place on the ground in Colorado.
House Bill 1187 Senate sponsor Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican, conceded that some might see the bill as establishing rules that were too open. He answered that the time was right to act, that just now in Colorado, someone could well be enjoying a self-driving-car ride, drinking a latte in the back seat, and there would be no laws governing the experience.
“This bill adds some framework,” he said.
Sen. Mike Merrifield, a Colorado Springs Democrat, characterized the proposal as “laissez-faire.” He argued that, in their rush to cater to industry, the sponsors of the bill weren’t properly considering related job loss in the trucking and ride-service sectors.
“There will be job loss. I won’t sugarcoat it,” said co-sponsor Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat. “Change is tough. But technological innovation is coming, whether we prepare for it or not.”
Hill and Moreno accepted an amendment requiring the state to study effects on the job market.
Hill said the bill would signal to industry that their automated products would be treated like any other motor vehicle in Colorado, that there would be no additional regulatory hoops to jump through.
“If you can follow all of the rules of the road — federal and state laws — you’re welcome to come and do business here,” he said. “If you can’t follow the rules, then you go to (the Colorado Department of Transportation) and State Patrol and ask permission and coordinate to do tests.”
Driverless cars will increase mobility, supporters of the bill argued, including for disabled Coloradans.
“Safety belts, air-lock brakes… they have all made driving safer,” Hill said. “We recognize this as technology that will eventually make us safer. Ninety-three percent of all accidents are caused by human error.”
Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, also played down safety concerns, listing car accident statics.
This year so far 76 people have died in car crashes on the roads in Colorado. Last year 277 people died.