Starting July 1, a new law in Florida will allow autonomous vehicles with no safety drivers to circulate public roads in the state. Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law with the intention of attracting self-driving-vehicle makers to the state and compete with California, Arizona, and Nevada.
The bill states: "The bill authorizes the operation of a fully autonomous vehicle on Florida roads regardless of whether a human operator is physically present in the vehicle."
The idea of fully autonomous vehicles on roadways without safety drivers may be concerning to Floridians, but there's an important caveat to the law: it only allows self-driving vehicles that are "equipped with an automatic driving system designed to function without a human operator."
The language describes Level 4 and 5 self-driving vehicles, which do not exist outside of pilot test programs.
The law also raises questions over liability in accidents.
"Fully autonomous vehicles will likely not have an accelerator, steering wheel, or any other form of human control," says Ankin Law Office. "This eliminates the possibility of human negligence. Therefore, manufacturer liability would be the focus points in injury cases when an autonomous car causes a crash."
Autonomous vehicles are being tested across the country, and some have been involved in accidents on public roads. These accidents are occurring even with safety drivers are behind the wheel.
"I think we will move to an insurance style regulatory system and set a minimum insurance level," said Republican Senator Brandes, who sponsored the bill. "We will use an insurance company to put their good housekeeping policy to work."
Florida's new law establishes requirements for on-demand ridesharing companies that use self-driving vehicles, which includes primary liability coverage of at least $1 million for "death, bodily injury, and property damage." Other minimum coverage will also be required.
If accidents do occur, Brandes says that the government should get involved.
In addition, the law will exempt the operator of a self-driving vehicle from laws forbidding the use of wireless devices while the car is in motion - as long as the self-driving mechanism is engaged.
Thus far, 29 states have passed laws related to autonomous vehicles, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Additionally, the Trump administration signed into law a $1.3 trillion spending bill that allocates $100 million for projects testing "the feasibility and safety" of self-driving vehicles.
More than 80 companies are testing more than 1,400 self-driving trucks, cars, and other vehicles across the United States.