Bill would pave way for driverless vehicles

DENVER — They won’t be taking over the roadways anytime soon, but when there are more driverless vehicles motoring around, the Colorado Legislature wants to be ready.

That, at least, was part of the point behind a bill that won approval in the Colorado Senate on Wednesday.

While some lawmakers said SB213 was needed to grease the wheels authorizing this up-and-coming industry to operate on the state’s roads, others worry about public safety and the loss of jobs that it would bring.

“Like other senators here, I know that autonomous vehicles are coming, but they are going to change the employment structure of our state,” said Sen. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village. “This does not seem to be a sufficiently careful rollout of this authorization. It seems to be hastily granted and not carefully circumscribed. This very broad authorization that is in SB213 will have massive employment implications.”

While the fledgling industry is years away from a full-scale development, Kagan and other senators, mostly on the Democratic side of the political aisle, worry about what it will mean for cab drivers, truckers, bus drivers and any other delivery personnel.

Supporters, however, say the technology is coming and there’s little point to stewing over it.

Even Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said the idea’s day is coming.

While the governor stopped short of saying he would sign the bill, he said the debate is upon us and it behooves the Legislature to talk about it.

“The fear connected with autonomous vehicles is very real, and I think it’s going to take longer to overcome that fear than we would think,” Hickenlooper said. “But we also know that 93, 94 percent of all traffic fatalities are based on human error, so we know that autonomous vehicles, once they get them figured out, are going to make our roads safer. We’ll have many, many thousands of people who aren’t injured or killed in automobile accidents.”

Opponents also are concerned that the bill doesn’t call for any new regulations, but the word of those putting driverless cars on the road to ensure that they adhere to traffic laws.

Hickenlooper warned there will be “glitches” in how they operate, adding that there will be other associated issues, such as auto accidents, job losses and insurance questions.

“There are going to be casualties along that path,” he said. “This is the kind of stuff as a society we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and say, ‘What are the consequences if one of these systems breaks down and smashes into a car with four people and kills two of them?’ The bill is part of a process ... but we should be thinking about it.”

The measure ultimately won final approval in the GOP-controlled Senate on a 22-13 vote, with 12 Democrats and one Republican opposing it. Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, was that sole Republican, who asked who would put the chains on the tires of autonomous trucks when they are driving over snowy mountains.

The bill, which heads to the Colorado House, has sponsorship from both sides of the aisle. In the Senate, it’s Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, and Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City. In the House, it has two Democrats who will shepherd it through that chamber, Reps. Faith Winter of Westminster and Jeff Bridges of Denver.


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