- A bill that would allow autonomous vehicles (AVs) on Utah roads has passed its first major hurdle, getting unanimous approval by the state House of Representatives' Transportation Committee. The bill will now go to the full House for a debate.
- State Rep. Robert Spendlove, R, told the Deseret News that he sponsored the bill to allow Utah to take advantage of the growing AV industry, and to make sure the cars were tested in a mountainous environment.
- The bill amends Utah law to no longer assume a human driver, and establishes some policy if an AV is in an accident. The bill would also preempt any local rules that would prohibit or tax AVs.
The bill would help Utah join the ranks of states like California, Arizona and Pennsylvania that allow AVs to be tested on public roads, rather than keeping them on private test tracks. Companies have already taken full advantage to test their cars in real-world conditions, with an eye toward commercial operations. Waymo has already launched its AV taxi service in Arizona, having tested for years in the state.
Spendlove told reporters that there are already companies interested in using Utah’s roads, especially because they would offer different conditions than they may have encountered elsewhere, like two feet of snow, a washed-out road or a rainstorm.
Spendlove acknowledged that it would have to be continuously tweaked over the years as technology evolves. And even though it passed its committee hearing with unanimous support, the bill could see more changes as it moves through the legislative process. It is notable that the bill preempts local regulations, especially as cities have increasingly taken the lead in regulating and permitting AV tests.
Utah’s move comes as the federal government has been slow in crafting its own rules. The U.S. Department of Transportation released an updated set of rules this fall that removed the assumption of a human driver, but did not step in with prescriptive rules on many safety issues. Congress has failed so far to move a bill regulating AVs, which has led to some concern that there will be a patchwork of state and local rules and no national standard.