Less than a month after a Cambridge start-up began testing self-driving cars in Boston, lobbyists are working on autonomous vehicle legislation to expand where you’ll see these cars in and around the city - and they’re not the only ones.
In lobbying registration documents, officials from General Motors and Volkswagen say they intend to lobby on autonomous vehicle legislation this year, according to the Boston Herald. The article also says other large automakers, including Nissan and Toyota, have registered lobbyists.
The decision of where autonomous cars will be tested and deployed will be determined by how accommodating or restrictive state laws are, GM’s Executive Director of Emerging Technologies Policy Harry Lightsey told the Herald. He added that these vehicles can’t be regulated the way we regulate the traditional automobile industry.
Boston currently only has provisional rules issued by Mayor Martin Walsh and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker right now when it comes to governing self-driving cars - which were enacted ahead of testing. This includes an executive order, signed by Baker back in October, that creates a framework for testing these vehicles on state roads, which includes a mandate that autonomous vehicles have to pass a Registry of Motor Vehicles inspection (which means they have to have brake pedals and steering wheels) and the company has to prove the vehicle can be operated without risk to public safety. But that may soon change as lawmakers are pushing to set statewide rules governing self-driving cars.
Baker’s executive order, “To Promote the Testing and Deployment of Highly Automated Driving Technologies,” also creates a working group on autonomous vehicles. The AV Working Group will “consult and convene with experts on motor vehicle safety and vehicle automation, collaborate with members of the Massachusetts Legislature on proposed legislation, and support ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ agreements which companies will need to enter into with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and affected municipalities or state agencies when plans are proposed for conducting testing of self-driving vehicles in Massachusetts,” according to a release from Baker’s office.
Late last month, State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield and Sen. Jason Lewis of Winchester, both Democrats, unveiled a bill that would set some statewide rules for both the testing and use of autonomous vehicles. The bill includes a mileage-based tax on the use of these vehicles, the ability for larger municipalities to ban them, and require them to be zero-emissions.
In November, Cambridge start-up nuTonomy signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the city of Boston and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation authorizing them to begin testing its growing fleet of self-driving cars on specific public streets in a designated area of Boston.
Boston road tests, which began Jan. 4, would allow nuTonomy’s software system to “learn local signage and road markings while gaining a deeper understanding of pedestrian, cyclist, and driver behavior and interaction across a complex urban driving environment,” according to a company statement. The statement went on to say nuTonomy officials plan to work with government officials to expand the testing area to other parts of the city in the near future.
“Boston and Massachusetts are leaders in rethinking the future of transportation, and we are grateful for their partnership and support of nuTonomy’s efforts to develop a fleet of self-driving cars to serve the public,” said nuTonomy CEO and co-founder Karl Iagnemma. “These tests in the city of Boston will enable our engineers to adapt our autonomous vehicle software to the weather and traffic challenges of this unique driving environment. Testing our self-driving cars so near to nuTonomy’s home is the next step towards our ultimate goal: deployment of a safe, efficient, fully autonomous mobility-on-demand transportation service.”