Though still a few years away a Louisiana House committee considered and advanced Monday legislation that would set up the legal and regulatory framework for driverless trucks operating on the state’s highways.
Starsky Robotics, a San Francisco-based company, is developing the technology that allows trucks to drive down the road autonomously using standard for wireless broadband.
“We’re expecting to start next year, at the earliest, but definitely within three-to-five years,” said Kameron Simmons, handling public policy and government affairs at Starsky.
The trucks would operate on software for most of the ride and remotely from a facility in Jacksonville, Fla. when the driverless trucks enter and exit the freeways and for the final miles on city streets.
The technology is so new that Louisiana needs to pass laws up and down the line. House Bill 455 is aimed at setting up that system.
HB455 defines automated driving system “as the hardware and software that are collectively capable of performing the entire dynamic driving task of an autonomous commercial motor vehicle on a sustained basis.”
The Office of Motor Vehicles would have jurisdiction over autonomous commercial motor vehicles and automated driving systems. OMV would establish application requirements. OMV and the Department of Transportation and Development would come up with the rules.
Simmons said Starsky is hoping for uniform rules so that the automated truck can pass state lines. The last thing the company needs is for a truck traveling down Interstate 10 from Texas to Florida, which already have passed similar laws, then change equipment in Alabama, he said.
Before anything happens, any company wanting driverless trucks on Louisiana highways would have to prove that it works. The wording is part of the bill and Simmons said it’s a reasonable demand.
The House Transportation committee vote 14-2 recommend the legislation favorably to the full House.
But state Rep. Terry Landry, the New Iberia Democrat who sponsored HB455 and chairs the committee, said he wouldn’t push for a vote in the full House until some of the bigger issues are addressed.
“There are a lot of questions, big questions, that need to be answered,” Landry said.
One of those questions is if tire blows and the driverless truck loses control and wrecks, who is held responsible, asked Robert Kleinpeter, a Baton Rouge lawyer.
In most wrecks, the driver is held responsible. But do the injured parties sue a company or the person in charge of the software or the person piloting the vehicle remotely from Florida?
“The technology is here,” Landry said. “Eventually we’re going to see this type of operation throughout our country. ...But there's a lot out there that we're not aware of."