Florida continues to lead the way in state level regulation of autonomous vehicles; recently passing legislation that permits autonomous vehicles and on-demand autonomous vehicle networks on public roads.
HB 311: Autonomous Vehicles, sponsored by Rep. Jason Fischer, and SB 932 Autonomous Vehicles, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, have sailed through Florida’s legislature and only require Governor Ron DeSantis’ signature to officially pass into law. The House-Senate bills seek to provide uniformity of laws governing autonomous vehicles, thereby clearing the regulatory path for autonomous vehicle development and increasing investment in the Sunshine State.
The legislation expressly permits fully autonomous vehicles to operate in Florida regardless of whether a human operator is physically present in the vehicle. “Automated driving systems” and “fully autonomous vehicles” are amongst the key terms defined within the legislation that exempts autonomous vehicles and operators from certain prohibitions (including on the active display of television or video and the use of wireless communications devices systems while driving).
SB 932: Autonomous Vehicles authorises the Florida Department of Transportation, in consultation with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, to conduct pilot or demonstration programs to explore the efficient implementation of innovative transportation technologies. It also authorises the Florida Turnpike Enterprise, a business unit of the Florida Department of Transport, to enter into one or more agreements to fund, construct, and operate facilities for the advancement of autonomous and connected innovative transportation technologies for certain purposes.
The legislation provides requirements for insurance and operation of on-demand autonomous vehicle networks, such as Uber or Lyft, and revises the registration requirements for autonomous vehicles. SB 932, legalises “on-demand autonomous vehicle networks,” defined as a service that uses “a software application or other digital means to connect passengers to fully autonomous vehicles, exclusively or in addition to other vehicles, for transportation, including for-hire transportation and transportation for compensation.”
Florida is widely regarded as one of the leading states in the development of self-driving vehicle policy. Fischer, the architect of the House Bill, stressed the importance of this legislation in maintaining Florida’s position: “To maintain this position and encourage companies to test and deploy in our state, we must address our existing laws governing motor vehicle operation that did not contemplate a driverless future when they were written.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, these developments have been positively received from the likes of Uber. Senior policy manager, Stephanie Smith, commented that: “This measure provides direction on the roles of state and local government and authorization for the deployment of automated vehicles on a ride-sharing network. These provisions establish a clear pathway to bring the benefits of automation to our state.”
Regulatory advancements of this kind are a necessary precursor to the deployment and commercialisation of autonomous vehicles. While this is a welcome development for Florida, the barriers to entry and upscaling created by this ‘state-centric’ approach to regulation continue to threaten the United States’ global leadership position in this sector.