TOPEKA — State and federal regulators joined a private insurance company official Tuesday in an attempt to convince Kansas lawmakers of the need to speed development of rules guiding use of high-tech driverless vehicles on streets and highways.
The House Transportation Committee and the Senate Transportation Committee convened separate hearings to journey into the emerging world of autonomous cars and trucks racing onto the U.S. market.
Susan DeCourcy, regional administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in Kansas City, Mo., told legislators the federal agency sought to be a partner rather than dictator of policy on automated vehicles. At the same time, she said, NHTSA will be a strong advocate for deployment of this new generation of vehicles, because too many people are maimed or die on the roads.
“We’re still killing people,” she said. “We need to take the next step.”
Self-driving vehicles are expected to transform thinking at the Kansas Department of Revenue about issuing driver’s licenses and defining what constitutes a legal motorist — robotic cars don’t need steering wheels or pedals. Insurance companies are certain to recognize potential of technological advances to save lives, but also that new issues of liability and data access will surface.
“The Kansas Legislature has never analyzed the concept or potential of driverless cars,” said Ted Smith, deputy general counsel at the state Department of Revenue. “As a result, the law does not expressly prohibit it or permit.”
Smith said proliferation of autonomous vehicles in Kansas would transform the way people go about daily affairs.
“If a resident cannot secure a driver’s license or afford to register, insure and operate a vehicle, the person may be slowly pushed outside social rubric of his or her community,” he said. “No access to a motor vehicle? How are you supposed to get to work, pick your kids up from school, get to a medical appointment, attend church?”
Smith said the state issued 575,000 license credentials last year, while suspending driving privileges of 70,000 people for non-alcohol reasons. An autonomous vehicle can resolve transportation challenges of people denied authority to operate a motor vehicle due to medical issues, he said.
Heather Flemming, an attorney with the State Farm insurance company, said 33 states had introduced legislation regarding automated vehicles, and 21 states and the District of Columbia passed legislation related to these vehicles.
Automated vehicle technology significantly will influence how insurers protect policyholders from financial loss and risk, she said.
“Throughout our 95-year history, State Farm actively supported technology advancements that improved safety for the benefit of our customers, including seatbelts, airbags, child care seats and teen driving laws,” Flemming said. “We support developments that have the promise of saving lives and avoiding injuries.”
She said the U.S. government should set performance standards for automated vehicles. State and municipal governments ought to have the power to determine registration and licensing, she said.
States should be allowed to regulate insurance for these vehicles and operators, she said. Insurers will need access to automated driving system information, including crash accident and incident data, she said.