Tuesday’s last subcommittee had an eye on the future. Senate Study Bill 1128 is an act relating to motor vehicles operated by an automated driving system.

Michael Triplett of Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers gave a rundown of the bill. The group requested the bill be drafted as there’s a push nationally to get uniform laws in place.

“They’re not yet ready to be deployed in mass,” Triplett said of self-driving vehicles. “They’re in mass testing constantly. We’ve done millions of hours of testing them through artificial intelligence and actually driving on the streets in various states around this country. This is something we’d like to see passed in the state of Iowa.”

Triplett said he believes 25 states have similar legislation, including Nebraska, which passed it last year.

“The bill itself is fairly generic and standard,” Triplett said. “It’s technology neutral so when we get to the point in the future — 2 years from now or 10 years from now — when these systems are thoroughly vetted and ready to be deployed, we don’t have to come back and try to change the law after the fact.”

Section 1 of the bill provides definitions for different aspects of the bill. Section 2 provides two distinctions regarding the operation of the vehicles. Subsection 1 deals with a driverless capable vehicle without a driver in the car. Subsection 2 deals with an automated driving system’s design while a conventional human driver is present.

Section 3 deals with insurance. In the case of a car driving itself and malfunctioning, insurance won’t cover the accident. Product liability law would take over instead.
Should an accident occur, Section 4 requires the car to remain at the scene.
“Law requires a driver to stay at the scene,” Triplett said. “When the car is the driver, the car has to be there.”

Section 5 allows an on-demand, driverless-capable vehicle network. Companies can create a fleet of fully autonomous vehicles.

Section 6 provides authority for regulation to the Department of Transportation. The group wants to exercise pre-emption so there aren’t different laws set up in different cities.

“We’re coming to you so we can have some sort of seamless system,” Triplett said. “We ask that you keep the bill somewhat generic and somewhat uniform across the state. What we don’t want to have happen is localities get involved and decide to add more context and requirements to what is already in this bill. It’s a must do.”

Senator Michael Breitbach asked how long the manufacturing product liability lasts.

Triplett said if the manufacturer would go out of business, the software for the vehicle is decativated. If a human driver tinkers with the softwar, then that voids the manufacturer liability as well.

“They’ll try to add code to it,” Triplett said. “There are people who think that they know how to do this. If they want to override with some code, then all bets are off and they are liable.”

Triplett said the company plans to guard the software closely.
The cars will know what mode they’re in at any point of a potential accident.

Lisa Davis-Cook of the Iowa Association for Justice echoed thoughts that came from the Iowa Bar Association. In addition to liability issues, Davis-Cook expressed concern about some of the language of the bill.

“We’ve had our folks who do litigation look at this bill and talked to colleagues around the country,” she said. “Some of the concerns we’ve had have been in other states where cars have malfunctioned, folks have been injured or killed, and how will they deal with that.”

There’s also a section of the bill that states the vehicle is capable of operating in compliance with the applicable traffic and motor vehicle safety laws and regulations — unless an exemption has been granted to the vehicle.

“That causes us some concern as to why they would be exempted from following the rules of the road,” Davis-Cook said. “What if the car is in fully automated mode and it (gets in an accident) and it drives off? Why is the owner held accountable if the car has driven off?

“If it’s under fully autonomous mode and the car runs a red light or doesn’t stop for a school bus and kills a child, does that mean it’s exempted from those violations because they’re only supposed to be governed by these sections?”

Triplett said the exceptions would be like not having to have windshield wipers, since the purpose of windshield wipers is to help human drivers.

And if there’s bad weather, the car can stop itself or tell the driver they need to take control. However, technology is evolving to be able to deal with such a scenario.

None of the three senators rejected the plan. They prefer to continue the conversation in full committee.