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Michigan can set aside roadways for exclusive use by automated vehicles under new law

U.S. Department of Transportation Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office

Michigan’s transportation department now has the power to designate some Michigan roadways and driving lanes for the use of automated vehicles. That’s the result of a law signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer Monday.

The new policy also gives the Michigan Department of Transportation permission to work with a third party to develop that technology.

“Michigan put the world on wheels, but the automotive industry as we know it is beginning to take new forms. We need to solidify Michigan’s role in the future of vehicle technology as well, and this legislation does just that,” Senator Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth), the bill’s main sponsor, said in a press release.

The legislation earned bipartisan support on its way to the governor’s desk.

Sen. Marshall Bullock (D-Detroit) was among the Democrats who signed on as a co-sponsor.

“I’m excited about Michigan being a leader in this space. I’m excited about minorities being involved in this space. I’m excited about what Michigan will ultimately look like ... at the forefront of what the rest of America look like,” Bullock said Monday.

During the committee process, the legislation did receive some push back from the motorcycle group ABATE of Michigan.

In comments to the state House Transportation Committee, the group outlined ten concerns. Some dealt with problems around crumbling infrastructure that already exists.

“Michigan ABATE believes that we cannot afford to pursue new and untried alterations to our transportation infrastructure while the existing system cries in vain for redesign, repair and modernization,” the group said in comments at a March meeting.

Supporters are cautioning it could be years before the state implements automated vehicle roadway technology on a large scale.

Collin Castle is the program manager for intelligent transportation systems at the Michigan Department of Transportation. He said the state first needs a better understanding of designs for the potential roadways and how they would serve the driving public.

“There needs to be a true understanding and collaboration with the vehicle manufacturing community to make sure that how this is implemented is done in a safe manner,” Castle said. “These are all kind of steps that we’re taking to really understand the feasibility of designating a road in this manner.”

The new law allows the state to work with third parties on further research and development.

Castle said partnerships stemming from the new law could help make technology simpler.

“It really gives us the flexibility to collaborate and work closely with the vehicle manufacturer, automated vehicle system developers, to understand what things we can be doing from a roadway infrastructure perspective to help these technologies continue to flourish and operate,” he said.

Supporters said the new law stems from recommendations by the state Council on Future Mobility and Electrification.

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