'M' Is for Autonomous: Michigan Becomes Fourth State To Approve Self-Driving Cars on Public Roads

Dec 23, 2013 10:05 AM EST | Jordan Ecarma (j.ecarma@autoworldnews.com)

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Could vehicles like Google's famous self-driving car eventually replace well-known auto brands? (Photo : Wiki Commons )

Michigan has become the fourth state to approve self-driving car research on public roads in hopes that the development and taxes involved will boost the state's economy.

Joining lawmakers from California, Nevada and Florida, the Michigan state Legislature passed the bill earlier this month in an almost unanimous vote with just one dissenter, The Christian Science Monitor reported via The Detroit News.

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Gov. Rick Snyder, who will review and sign the bill to put it into law, gave a state address in January calling for such a measure. State lawmakers hope the bill will keep research, development and taxes related to self-driving technology within the state.

The governor will do "a final review and analysis of the bill ... but this was something that the governor has called for and it was a priority to get done this legislative session," spokeswoman Sara Wurfel was quoted as saying by The Detroit News.

Ann Arbor, Mich., could become the first city in the United States to have a "shared fleet of networked, driverless vehicles" by 2021, according to the University of Michigan.

"We want to demonstrate fully driverless vehicles operating within the whole infrastructure of the city within an eight-year timeline and to show that these can be safe, effective and commercially successful," said Peter Sweatman, director of the U-M Transportation Research Institute.

The bill states that a driver must be in the self-driving vehicle's driver seat at all times to be able to take over in case of emergency. Autonomous cars also must bear an "M" license plate for identification.

Under the new law, third party "upfitters" like Google will be able to test their cars along with such major manufacturers as Ford, Nissan, Toyota, Volvo and Mercedes.

Heavyweight automakers have a variety of timelines for autonomous driving. Nissan plans to roll out self-driving cars as early as 2020, while General Motors officials don't believe they will be producing autonomous vehicles "for the foreseeable future." 

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