Legislature looks to regulate driverless cars

by Jeremy Alford, LaPolitics


A pair of bills passed by the House Transportation Committee address the next level of automotive technology by implementing new layers of regulation for autonomous vehicles, or those that don’t necessarily require a human driver, and new fees for owners of electric cars.

The full House is now prepared to vote on HB 1143 by Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, which creates a framework for the Department of Transportation and Development and the Department of Public Safety and Corrections to adopt rules and regulations for driverless cars.

You can’t yet purchase these rolling robots yet but most luxury manufacturers are expected to have models in showrooms by 2020.

Stokes’ bill would create a regulatory framework that’s broken down into levels.

“It lays the groundwork for welcoming new technology into Louisiana and it will put Louisiana ahead of the nation for welcoming an innovative industry,” she said.

The five levels range from the lowest, or first, which includes automated breaking and cruise control with some human cooperation, to the last, or fifth, which is complete automation.

The second level means the driverless car is able to stay in a lane, but requires the driver’s help for other maneuvers; the third relates to vehicles that drive themselves but still needs a human calling the shots; and the fourth level is basically automated, but only in a limited geographic region.

Stokes said her legislation is about an independent future for all walks of life.

“I bring this on behalf of all senior citizens who lose their ability to drive,” she said, adding, “I can get ready on my way to the Capitol and on the way home read bills. It will free up my life.”

Also passed was Stokes’ HB 774, which would implement a new $50 annual fee for electric cars.

While such vehicles already pay registration fees, the bill mirrors what owners of gas-guzzlers are paying in fuel taxes — 20 cents per gallon, which is dedicated to road, bridge and highway maintenance.

“This establishes some marker for electric vehicles to be contributing to our roads,” she said.

According to a financial analysis of the bill compiled by the Legislative Fiscal Office, the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy estimates there were approximately 527 plug-in electric vehicle registrations in Louisiana in 2014.

To the extent approximately half of these vehicles renew registrations in a given year, the analysis states, the Louisiana Transportation Trust Fund would receive approximately $26,400 annually.

“I do expect this number of electric vehicles to increase pretty steadily,” Stokes said.