Lawmakers advanced a bill Tuesday that, if adopted by the Legislature next year, would establish a regulatory framework for producers of self-driving cars and other autonomous vehicles to begin testing on Wyoming roadways.
Drafted ahead of the experimental rollout of self-driving shuttle service at Yellowstone National Park next summer, the draft legislation would create protocols for developers of autonomous vehicles to legally test and operate them within state lines.
Though a new concept in Wyoming, the proposal is not a unique one: If passed by the full Legislature next year, Wyoming would become the 30th state to enact some form of autonomous vehicle regulation, nearly a full decade after Florida enacted its own set of laws.
And while the state has contemplated the role of autonomous vehicles in previous pieces of legislation as well as in internal documents within the Wyoming Department of Transportation, the Legislature has been slow to respond.
The bill’s passage out of the Joint Committee on Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs on Tuesday was seen as a recognition of the inevitable changes coming to America’s roadways, with numerous lawmakers recognizing that both electric and self-driving vehicles are likely to become the future of individualized transit.
Initially introduced by the Legislature’s Select Committee on Blockchain, Financial Technology and Digital Innovation Technology, the bill was designed to strike a balance between the flexibility to test and develop those vehicles with the regulation necessary to ensure safety on the state’s roadways without stifling innovation.
Though many other states have already implemented legislation around autonomous vehicles, Jesse Kirchmeier — the emergency response planner for WYDOT and facilitator of the autonomous vehicles working group that developed the legislation — said that the public’s perception of their viability could have been a likely obstacle for policymakers, requiring even greater attention to safety.
“What we’re looking for is comfort,” he told lawmakers. “I read occasional stories or surveys about the public’s comfort with (autonomous vehicles), and when these surveys come out, 40% are supportive, 40% are on the fence, and 20% not so much. It’s something they don’t trust. So from our perspective, we felt it should be put into the bill.”
Many of the safety concerns around autonomous vehicles, Wyoming Highway Patrol administrator Kebin Haller said, have already been addressed by the makers of those vehicles, with industry leaders like Tesla working closely with law enforcement in regulating vehicles on state highways.
Though the legislation has clear provisions regulating what vehicles get permitted as well as sideboards to allow experimental vehicles on the road, some lawmakers were reluctant to take chances with new technology, while others raised concerns about unanticipated legal concerns that might not be sufficiently addressed by language in the bill.
Rep. Joe McGuire, R-Casper, proposed an amendment to transition the draft legislation into a two-year study on the use of autonomous vehicles, forcing the Legislature to revisit its autonomous vehicle regulations after those two years were up. Lawmakers like Rep. Stan Blake, D-Green River, and Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, opposed those changes, largely on the grounds they did not want to interfere with regulatory certainty for autonomous vehicle manufacturers as they made headway in the state.
“I think this bill is ready for prime time,” said Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, the committee’s chair.