DENVER – Colorado lawmakers took a step Thursday toward preparing the state for vehicles that will travel the roadways of the future.
Senate Bill 213, which would allow automated driving systems in vehicles if they meet state and federal driving safety laws, was passed unanimously by the Senate Transportation Committee. It also would prohibit local governments from passing legislation to restrict use.
Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, said SB 213 would lay a framework for the state as technologies develop and are deployed, which could be as soon as five years out.
The passage of the bill came after testimony in support of the bill from leaders in the fields of automation and automotive products, such as Lockheed Martin, a global security and aerospace developer, General Motors and Panasonic.
Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, said SB 213 is partially inspired by tough conversations his family has had on his grandmother’s decreased independence as she ages. He wants to get ahead of the ball because the technology could provide accessibility options for the elderly and those with disabilities.
It also allows Colorado to be a leader in the developing facet of the automotive and technology industry, Hill said. “Uber famously put all their self-driving cars on the back of a truck and shipped them out of California and into Arizona. So here in Colorado, we’ve got a chance to say, ‘Come and set up shop here’ – there’s technology, there’s manufacturing, there’s American jobs tied to this, and Colorado has a chance to be a real help for this.”
Jamie Adams, senior program manager of autonomous systems for Lockheed Martin, said his company doesn’t focus on personal transportation but has worked extensively in the realm of autonomous navigation and believes SB 213 would open the door for continued development.
“We are working to introduce autonomy at whatever levels we can, taking humans out of harm’s way, introducing technology to make us more efficient and more cost-productive,” Adams said.
And while many who testified Thursday spoke in favor of the potential reduction in car crashes by taking human error out of the equation and the increased independence Hill envisions, not everyone was convinced.
Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, said his organization supports the technologies but is not sure that now is the time for wholesale buy-in. “We believe these technologies are excellent tools to assist truck and bus drivers in more safely navigating our highways, allowing them to respond quicker to emergency situations and allowing them to make critical adjustments,” Fulton said.
“At the same time, we recognize these are relatively new technologies that are still evolving.”
The concern over the newness of autonomous systems was a common theme among opponents of the bill, as was the need for a strict outline on what testing and certification of autonomous vehicles in the state should entail, but the committee believed the bill as it was should be passed to the full Senate for consideration.