Maryland State Agency Advocates for Self-Driving Car Legislation

By CARRIE SNURR, Capital News Service | January 19, 2017

The state’s Motor Vehicle Administration is advocating legislation that would transfer regulatory power of self-driving cars to the agency and the state police, saying the change may improve safety on Maryland roads and reduce human error.

Motor Vehicle Administration representative Christine Nizer testified before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Tuesday in favor of the bill, saying that the bill was written to be broad in order to be flexible because the technology for self-driving cars is moving forward so rapidly.

“Autonomous vehicles would be tested on private facilities before they are testing on public roads,” she said. “There’d be a robust process to make sure they are safe before they are put on the road.”

Nizer said that they chose the I-95 corridor because of its proximity to several tech companies.

Sen. Robert Cassilly, R-Harford, expressed his concern about how autonomous cars would handle avoiding accidents. He said he had concerns that the legislature would not have a direct role in regulating autonomous vehicles.

Justin Kintz, a representative from Uber, supported the bill, stating that self-driving cars could lead to fewer driving-related deaths because they were safer than cars driven by humans. He echoed Nizer that developing the technology would take time before it is ready.

Representatives from the Auto Alliance, an advocacy group for the auto industry, expressed opposition to the bill as it is written because it does not contain specific enough language. Bill Kress, a representative from the Auto Alliance, explained that the group had concerns that state regulations and legislation would not match federal regulations and that the authority granted to the state’s Motor Vehicle Administration would be too broad.

In December, the Maryland Department of Transportation submitted an application to to the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide a proving ground for testing self-driving cars, according to a state agency press release.

The testing would occur along the I-95 corridor between the University of Maryland area and the Aberdeen Proving Grounds.

A U.S. DOT representative told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service Tuesday the agency planned to announce the application approvals sometime this week.

The U.S. DOT and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration updated their policies to encourage the development of autonomous vehicles and technology that could help save lives, according to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn in December 2015 created the Maryland Autonomous and Connected Vehicle Working Group, which examines issues related to the regulation of self-driving vehicles. Nevada and eight other states and Washington, D.C., have already enacted legislation regarding self-driving cars.

The working group recommended that the Maryland Department of Transportation apply for the U.S. DOT program.

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