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Florida Governor Signs Bill Allowing Self-driving Vehicles to Operate Without a Safety Driver

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【Summary】On Thursday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that expands the testing and use of autonomous vehicles, allowing companies to test the vehicles without a human driver present.

FutureCar Staff    Jun 13, 2019 5:25 PM PT
Florida Governor Signs Bill Allowing Self-driving Vehicles to Operate Without a Safety Driver
A self-driving minivan operated by Silicon Valley startup Voyage in The Villages, Florida. (Photo: Voyage)


The sunshine state of Florida is not typically associated with high-tech and self-driving cars, however that might change after a new bill was signed today by the state's governor allowing companies to test self-driving cars without a human backup driver behind the wheel.

On Thursday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that expands the testing and use of autonomous vehicles, allowing companies to test the vehicles without a human driver present.

Autonomous vehicles will also become exempt from the state's unattended motor vehicle law, which prohibits a vehicle from being unattended by a human without first stopping the engine, locking the ignition and removing the key.

It also exempts human operators of self-driving cars from laws that ban texting while driving and other potentially distracting activities.

The new law takes effect on July 1.

Officials believe autonomous vehicles can approve transportation options in Florida, providing additional mobility options for residents of Florida, especially older residents who need to safely get around. According to U.S. census data, 20% percent of Florida residents are over the age of 65.

The bill clarifies that, when engaged, the autonomous driving technology installed on a vehicle is deemed to be the "operator" in control the vehicle, regardless of whether or not a human is physically present behind the wheel.

The vehicles must also be able to communicate with law enforcement in the event of an accident. The bill explains that, "In the event of an accident, the vehicle immediately notifies law enforcement with important information regarding location and type of crash."

The new legislation also authorizes the Florida Turnpike Enterprise to fund, construct, and operate test facilities for the advancement of autonomous and connected transportation technology.

"I think it's exciting, I think it's good that we're here and I applaud the legislature for embracing this and making sure that Florida welcomes innovation when it comes to transportation," DeSantis said.

Officials and leaders in Florida believe that autonomous vehicles can save lives once fully approved for the road.

DeSantis announced that legislatures and Florida leaders will have the opportunity to be test passengers for the autonomous vehicles, so they can experience firsthand riding in a self-driving car.

One Silicon Valley-based autonomous driving startup has been testing its technology in Florida since last year and will soon be able to legally remove safety drivers from its fleet of self-driving test vehicles. The company specializes in door-to-door transportation services. 

Voyage is current testing a fleet of autonomous taxis in The Villages, the largest retirement communities in the U.S. with a population of over 100,000. Voyage is providing elderly residents of the Village, including those who physically cannot drive, a safe mobility option, which is what the bill is intended for.


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