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Infrastructure

Bill legalizing self-driving cars awaits Gov. Ivey’s signature

If signed, SB226 would legalize self-driving cars for personal use and prevent local governments from regulating or taxing them.

Autonomous Drive, Self-Driving Vehicle
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On May 9, the state House unanimously decided to send a bill legalizing self-driving cars to Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature. The state legislature already legalized autonomous vehicles used for commercial purposes in 2019, but SB226, if signed, would legalize autonomous vehicles for personal use as well.

The federal government has been very slow to pass new legislation addressing self-driving cars, leading many state and local governments to pass their own legislation.

“We want to make sure that the public highways are under a rule of law,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Northport, said. “When you have a vehicle that is self-driving, you know, we want to make sure that the laws are in place to govern those vehicles as well.”

Under Allen’s legislation, in order to operate without human drivers autonomous vehicles must be able to enter “a stable, stopped condition … in order to reduce the risk of a crash when a given trip cannot or should not be continued.” Additionally, fully autonomous vehicles will have to be insured for at least $100,000.

The bill would also forbid local governments from taxing or otherwise regulating self-driving vehicles.

When asked why the bill prevents local governments from regulating autonomous vehicles, Allen stated: “It’s a huge public safety issue to make sure that the public safety officials in all the counties and the cities in Alabama have some form of guidance on how to ticket and to control the autonomous vehicles.”

Public safety has been a major ongoing concern as self-driving vehicles have been rolled out across the country over the last couple years.

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In November, General Motors subsidiary Cruise had to recall all 950 self-driving vehicles that it had on the road. The recall came after an autonomous Cruise car critically injured a pedestrian by dragging them underneath the car for twenty feet. In response, California revoked Cruise’s license to operate self-driving vehicles in the state.

In December, Tesla had to issue a safety recall report and push software updates to all of its cars after an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association revealed that Tesla’s Autopilot feature may have contributed to dozens of crashes.

On May 13, it was announced that Amazon’s self-driving car division Zoox is also being investigated by the NHTSA. Two self-driving taxis that Zoox operated braked suddenly and were rear-ended.

Self-driving vehicles have also drawn criticism for their potential impact on jobs, particularly in the trucking industry.

Asked about the potential economic impacts of self-driving cars, Allen repeatedly pointed to the “more than 50,000 citizens of Alabama” who work for automobile manufacturers, and the need to allow automakers to develop and build self-driving cars in the state.

But the secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 402, Joe Gronek, has called the legislation “a threat to the safety and economic security of everyone throughout the state.”

“Passing this bill isn’t just playing with fire, it’s playing with dynamite,” Gronek said.

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According to the Alabama Department of Labor, 27.3 thousand Alabamians were employed in truck transportation in March. Gronek stated that “automating these jobs will have a devastating impact on Alabama’s working-class communities.”

The Teamsters have tried to pass legislation in several states that would require autonomous vehicles to have a human operator in them at all times, citing both safety and economic concerns. In 2023, a Teamster-backed bill to mandate human operators was passed by the state legislature in California, but it was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Gronek stated that the Teamsters “look forward to having that conversation with Alabama lawmakers next year.”

Chance Phillips is a reporting intern at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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