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No Special Permit Required to Test Autonomous Cars in Florida

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【Summary】In a short tweet, Brandes called out Uber, stating that no permit is required to test driverless vessels in the state of Florida.

Original Michael Cheng    Jan 03, 2017 6:00 AM PT
No Special Permit Required to Test Autonomous Cars in Florida

Uber's failed attempt at launching its self-driving program in San Francisco sparked controversy in the legislative community. When the company moved its autonomous fleet from California to Arizona, several political leaders, including Florida state Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), took aim at issues surrounding regulatory challenges in the driverless car sector.

In a short tweet, Brandes called out Uber, stating that no permit is required to test driverless vessels in the state of Florida. Four years ago, the Senator co-sponsored a law (along with the Florida Legislature) that basically allowed an individual with a valid driver's license to operate a self-driving car. At the time, businesses testing driverless platforms were required to show proof of insurance coverage ($5 million).

In 2016, that all changed.

"But Florida, like Pennsylvania and Arizona, essentially treats autonomous vehicles as regular cars, without imposing additional insurance or legal burdens on operators. Level 2 semi-autonomous technology would not require additional steps on the companies' part," said Paul Mutter from Geek Time.

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Paving the Way for Developers

Last year, the state eased barrier-to-entry obstacles related to tight regulations for companies in the nascent industry. The group removed the $5 million insurance coverage requirement, as well as the need for a human operator to be present in the car during operation. In other states, the presence of a human developer is mandatory and is considered to be one of the operating "best practices" due to concerns with safety. In Florida, an operator only needs to be alerted, in the event of malfunction or premature failure.

Interestingly, the new laws ban the use of monitors displaying television broadcasts and pre-recorded entertainment content when all motor vehicles are in use – unless being steered via an autonomous platform. In such cases, the guidelines allow the use of electronic displays. HB 7027 also complies with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's recommendations regarding V2V capabilities in self-driving cars. This extends to both truck platooning in commercial sectors and vehicles used for private transportation or daily commuting.  

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Things to Consider

Did Florida jump the gun in removing crucial laws that govern the testing of self-driving cars in the state? The answer could be yes. According to Beth Frady, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the lack of permits is a huge problem because officials have no way of tracking autonomous vehicle ownership.

But for companies like Uber, there are other factors to take into consideration before setting up pilot programs in the state. The ride-sharing giant isn't interested in expanding to Florida just yet, as other laws limit the company from operating statewide. Currently, the business can only conduct services in the following areas: Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Hillsborough counties, as well as the cities of Gainesville and Tallahassee.

"As much as the [patchwork] nature of US motor vehicle laws has helped Uber in its dispute with state DMVs by allowing it to shift operations elsewhere, it also hurts it in the long run. A driverless car that cannot cross state lines is not a very attractive proposition, especially on the East Coast," explained Mutter.

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