It’s Official: Colorado Passes First Law to Regulate Driverless Vehicles

A Google self-driving car is displayed at the Google headquarters on Sept. 25, 2012 in Mountain View, California. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed State Senate Bill 1298 that allows driverless cars to operate on public roads for testing purposes. The bill also calls for the Department of Motor Vehicles to adopt regulations that govern licensing, bonding, testing and operation of the driverless vehicles before Jan. 2015.

If you’re thinking about developing an autonomous vehicle in Colorado, go ahead. It’s now legal, as long as you obey all of the existing rules of the road, according to legislation signed into law Thursday by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“It’s hard to get the right balance between regulation and avoiding the red tape that sometimes stifles innovation,” said Hickenlooper, standing in front of a Chevrolet Bolt EV autonomous test vehicle that was trucked in from Michigan and is on its way for road tests in Arizona. “This is the right balance that allows Colorado to be a hotbed of innovation.”

Senate Bill 17-213, which was introduced in March, is the first Colorado law touching on driverless cars. It wasn’t meant to delve into the nitty-gritty of how autonomous vehicles should operate on the state’s roads. But rather, said sponsor state Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, the new law focused on creating a process that allows for autonomous vehicles to be tested safely.

People in the cars, for example, must still fasten their seatbelts, Hill said.

“We were very clear in writing the law that we’re not changing any of those other laws. Obviously, seatbelts is one of them. Turning indicators, moving aside for emergency vehicles — all of those laws still have to be followed,” Hill said. “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.”

The law does require companies who plan to test driverless cars in Colorado to first check in with the Colorado Department of Transportation and State Patrol.

Driverless cars — which use sensors, cameras, GPS and lasers to drive on their own — are being tested on the roads in California, Arizona and Michigan. While most states have pending legislation or have considered rules, Colorado becomes the 16th to pass legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Governors in three other states have issued executive orders related to autonomous vehicles.

During Thursday’s bill-signing ceremony, which was held at Marjorie Park’s Museum of Outdoor Arts in Greenwood Village, Hickenlooper left the podium to sign the bill on the hood of the EV Bolt, a test vehicle with LIDAR equipment on its roof and sensors taped to the side of the car.

When the bill was first introduced in March, opponents expressed concern about safety and wished the bill included language for a back-up human driver. But proponents, including Advocacy Denver, pointed out how driverless cars could improve opportunities for people with disabilities, while a farmer representing the Colorado Farm Bureau said that his auto-pilot tractor greatly reduced accidents at night.

In Colorado, Panansonic is developing a smart city that will include autonomous electric EZ10 shuttles from France’s EasyMile, which is also moving its U.S. headquarters to Denver. The state also hosted Uber’s self-driving semi truck in October that drove Budweiser beer more than 120 miles to Colorado Springs from Fort Collins.

But as for GM expanding its self-driving tests to Colorado?

“Denver, as you’ve heard, is now open for business so it’s certainly under consideration by GM and by anybody else in the industry. There are a lot of other companies developing this technology as well,” Lightsey said. “…That’s the exciting part of it too. You don’t have to be an automaker to develop this and that’s the good thing about the Colorado law.”

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