Michigan has become the first US state to permit the testing and sale of autonomous vehicles that have no steering wheel.
Highly autonomous vehicles (HAV) without a steering wheel will be trialled on public roads. It is seen as a key move to securing the state’s position as the hub of car manufacture in the USA.
The Governor of Michigan Rick Snyder said: "We put the world on wheels and now we must lead the way in transforming the auto industry."
Sixteen US states now allow the testing of autonomous vehicles in one form or another. Nevada led the way in 2011 and California is about to permit vehicle tests without a steering wheel, brake pedal, accelerator or an operator inside the vehicle.
The new law in Michigan helps pave the way for Ford’s plan to offer a mass produced fully autonomous vehicle by 2021. This is part of the company’s Ford Smart Mobility plan.
Ford’s President and CEO Mark Fields said: ‘This is every bit as significant as the introduction of the moving assembly line by Ford 100 years ago. We are dedicated to offering autonomous vehicles that can improve safety and solve social and environmental challenges for millions of people.’
Currently, Ford is testing its autonomous vehicles in Palo Alto, California, but the move by Michigan’s legislators offers the chance to test in and around the company’s headquarters in Detroit. There are 30 Fusion Hybrids being tested in California at present.
The University of Michigan cautiously welcomed the move to allow testing of HAVs. Brandon Schoettle from the university’s Transportation Research Institute said: ‘The act of vehicles driving around like this on any public road is unprecedented given the recent introduction of such technology.’
Governor Snyder also enacted laws that exempt mechanics from legal action if an autonomous vehicle is involved in a collision so long as the car was serviced or repaired in accordance with manufacturer specifications.