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Lawmaker: Arizona needs a law to be ready for driverless cars

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Some self-driving systems:

• Google's modified Toyota Prius models

• Mercedes-Benz's 2013 S-Class

• Audi's 2014 A8

• "Super Cruise," Cadillac's semi-autonomous system

PHOENIX – Imagine a day when cars zip smoothly along while drivers, their hands nowhere near the wheel, blithely peruse their tablets and smartphones.

It may sound like science fiction, but it’s a day one Arizona lawmaker says is fast-approaching.

“Talking to people in the industry, they’re talking about fully autonomous vehicles possibly five years from now,” said Rep. Jeff Dial, R–Chandler.

Dial has authored a bill designed to prepare Arizona for autonomous vehicles such as those being developed by Google.

HB 2167 would define in state law what constitutes an autonomous vehicle and would designate the person who activates a car’s self-driving technology as the driver.

“If you’re the person activating the vehicle, if something goes wrong there needs to be liability,” Dial said. “You need to be able to place who’s responsible for what.”

Among other provisions, Dial’s bill would require that a human operator be present during open-road testing of the vehicles and would clear auto manufacturers of liability for cars that others have modified to be self-driving.

The measure didn’t get off to a fast start, however. The House Transportation Committee discussed HB 2167 on Jan. 31 but held it without taking action.

California, Florida and Nevada have laws allowing self-driven cars. Toyota, General Motors and Mercedes-Benz are among other companies that are testing or have announced plans to develop driverless technology.

Some members of the Transportation Committee said they hope the state’s automobile proving grounds will put Arizona at the forefront of driverless-car innovation but cautioned Dial against hampering progress with too much legislation.

“We do need to be really careful that we don’t put limits on this by defining things too much in advance,” said Rep. Victoria Steele, D–Tucson. “We don’t want to restrict things.”

Dan Gage, director of communications and public affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said it’s important for states to assign who is responsible for cars that are converted to autonomous motor vehicles, or AMVs.

“If you purchased a Toyota and went out and altered it to be an AMV, if you get in an accident afterward Toyota shouldn’t be held responsible,” Gage said.

Dial said self-driving technology marks a new and safer era for driving.

“I think it’s going to be really the biggest change or impact on American and the world society since the Internet,” he said.