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Monday, 05 November 2018 22:11

OR Moves Closer to Driverless Car Testing

Written by Caleb Diehl, Oregon Business
A rendering of a driverless car. A rendering of a driverless car. Shutterstock


Legislation is being developed that would pave the way for testing driverless cars in Oregon.


Rep. Susan McLain (D-Hillsboro) is drafting a bill for the 2019 session that would allow limited testing of autonomous vehicles. The bill, she said, is modeled closely on legislation in California and Washington.


“There’s just a lot to look at,” McLain said. “We’re starting slow with the basics on testing.”


Uber and other technology companies want to step on the gas. McLain said the bill will “remain silent” on commercial deployment---selling the cars to the public. That’s something the industry explicitly asked for in earlier discussions.


McLain’s bill is based in part on recommendations submitted in September from the Oregon Department of Transportation’s autonomous vehicle task force. The group of 33 industry and government representatives recommended that the state establish a framework for testing but hold off on deployment. The committee members voted unanimously, but they remained far from agreement. Many submitted public comment letters clarifying their positions.


A schism between tech and active transportation advocates was evident in the comment letters. The League of American Bicyclists, a national nonprofit advocacy group, alluded to an Uber driverless car killing a woman walking in Tempe, AZ, in March as reason to put on the brakes. The Technology Association of Oregon played down the incident, commenting that “only one person was killed” by an autonomous vehicle, while drunk drivers kill around 28 people per day.


In his letter to the task force, Uber spokesman Jon Isaacs expressed concern that Oregon is “falling behind” other states in developing autonomous vehicle policy and wrote that a testing-only policy would have “limited utility.” He wrote that the tech industry’s views were underrepresented with four of the 33 task force members, and that they would not support a bill that doesn’t spell out a path to deployment.


Joanie Deutsch, executive director of TechNet, a national network of technology CEOs, warned that a testing-only policy might not lead to testing at all. Nine states already authorized deployment, Deutsch noted, so companies might just test in other states with friendlier legislation.

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