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Bill preparing for autonomous vehicles in Iowa advances at Capitol

Bill preparing for autonomous vehicles in Iowa advances at Capitol

Automated Vehicle Research project manager Ashley McDonald watches the video screen as she keeps her hands off the steering wheel while a Volvo XC90 SUV test vehicle self parks along a street near the University of Iowa’s National Advanced Driving Simulator, 2401 Oakdale Boulevard, in Iowa City, Iowa, on Tuesday. July 25, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette) Fully autonomous vehicles still may be years — if not decades — away, but some Iowa lawmakers are hoping to take a proactive approach to creating statewide rules for driverless cars.

Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire, said Senate File 302 would create basic regulations for automated vehicles including rules on operation, insurance and a driver or owner liability in the event of a collision.

“We want to make sure that we have the framework in place that encourages investment in our state so that we can continue to develop the technology and be a leader in autonomous vehicles in Iowa,” she said.

The bill also allows the Iowa Department of Transportation to adopt rules relating to autonomous vehicles and would require autonomous vehicles to comply with existing motor vehicle safety rules.

Cournoyer said 29 states already have created similar bills.

Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, the lone senator to vote against the bill, said he had a “high level of skepticism” for the measure and its subject matter.

“I’m a little skeptical about the technology. I don’t think it’s ready for prime time,” Hogg said.

Hogg added he also felt the bill needed to better establish insurance requirements for the owners and operators of autonomous vehicles.

“I think we need to go slow and be prepared,” he said.

Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, has pushed a similar bill in the Iowa House. SF 302 has passed the Senate and is eligible for House debate.

Cournoyer said she has been supporting another bill — Senate File 428 — to open the possibility of automated vehicle “platooning.”

As with many states, Iowa’s following-too-closely laws currently prohibit a platoon — when two trucks, with onboard automated technology, link up to share a signal. Once connected, the lead truck sets the speed, while the rear truck follows as close as 40 to 50 feet behind.

Proposed updates to legislation would change the state’s distance requirements for truck drivers, allowing for such platooning.

“We want to be proactive in this legislation and make sure we’re not stifling investments in the technology. If Iowa can be a leader, I’m all for it,” Cournoyer said.

A 2018 report by Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C., public policy organization, found Iowa was one of more than 30 states not allowing automated vehicle platooning.

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