Gov. Vetoes Driverless Car Bill

Concord Monitor
Published: 7/5/2018 11:50:56 PM
Modified: 7/5/2018 11:51:08 PM

Concord — A fatal crash involving an self-driving car in Arizona was one of the reasons Gov. Chris Sununu said he vetoed a bill on Monday that would allow for autonomous vehicle testing in New Hampshire by 2019.

House Bill 314 would have allowed companies or individuals to apply for permits with the Division of Motor Vehicles to test fully automated vehicles — those that can navigate roads without any hands-on contact from the driver. To get the permit, the applicant would have to demonstrate that it has an insurance plan of at least $10 million and that each vehicle previously had been tested in a closed environment, among other requirements.

Under the bill, applicants, who would have to obtain the $500 permits on a car-by-car basis, could begin setting the vehicles on the road by 2019.

But while supporters said the bill could allow companies to take advantage of New Hampshire’s varied road terrain, and spur investment from the likes of Google and Tesla, Sununu said that the safety considerations in the bill were not fully fleshed out.

“While well intentioned, House Bill 314 fails to address a number of issues related to automated vehicle technology,” the governor wrote in his veto letter.

Among those failings, Sununu continued: The permitting process only applies to Level 5 autonomous vehicles — the highest category, and doesn’t create any oversight regime lower categories. That means the law would only apply to the testing of those vehicles that can entirely drive themselves, and not to vehicles with advanced “cruise control” options allowing the driver to remove their hands from the wheel.

Testing within that latter category proved deadly in recent months. An Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz., and the driver of a Tesla car on autopilot died after crashing into a barrier in Mountain View, Calif. after a malfunction.

Lawmakers at the time said the tragedies did not affect their support for the bill, but Sununu said they highlighted the need for greater regulatory oversight, which he said wasn’t met in New Hampshire’s bill.

“This issue is just too serious to allow a bill to give the appearance of responsible oversight, when in fact little would change on the ground,” he wrote, calling the bill “well-intentioned” but “flawed.”

“This legislation may attract less responsible actors to New Hampshire to develop autonomous vehicle technology and could result in a more dangerous testing environment on New Hampshire’s roads,” the letter continued.

But Sununu didn’t turn his back on the industry entirely, requesting the Legislature to develop a bill “will encourage development of autonomous vehicle technology” while better balancing safety concerns.”

Lawmakers have a chance in September to overturn the veto with a two-thirds majority in each chamber.

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