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Florida to Allow Self-Driving Cars Without Human Monitors as of July 1

Self-driving vehicles without human safety drivers aboard will soon be allowed on roads in the state of Florida. The practice is already legal in Nevada, California and Arizona in the western United States.

Florida’s aim with the legislation is to be competitive vis-à-vis these other states in attracting companies in the domain. The official signing of the law by Governor Ron DeSantis took place at the SunTrax autonomous-drive vehicle testing centre, currently under construction.

There is a caveat to the new law, however. The legislation legalizes the use of vehicles that are equipped with an automated system designed specifically for use without the presence of a human on board. In other words, it applies to vehicles with Levels 4 and 5 self-driving technologies. At present, these vehicles do not yet exist outside of test programs, meaning members of the public do not have access to them. Tesla, for one, has promised commercially available vehicles with those levels of technologies in the near-future.

The new Florida law also imposes conditions on companies that want to offer car-sharing services, like Lyft, Uber, Waymo and Maven. These firms will have to provide coverage of up to $1 million in the event of an accident involving one or more fatalities, serious injuries or the destruction of property.

Photo: Waymo

According to Sam Abuelsamid, analyst at Navigant Research, “this bill is unlikely to have much impact one way or the other on the development of the technology.” He added that “most companies are now taking a measured approach to deployment with the awareness that premature deployment could destroy public trust and lead to extremely costly liability litigation.”

The legislation has another component: it actually exempts operators of such autonomous vehicles from the ban on using electronic devices while the vehicle is in motion – on the condition that the automated system is activated.

It’s clear that we won’t be seeing driverless vehicles traveling the state of Florida any time soon, so all the Canadian snowbirds down there can relax. Still, the addition of another state to the list of those that permit these types of tests shows that the technology is in full development mode, and that it will be among us sooner rather than later.

On the condition, of course, that consumers show they want it and don’t reject it in large numbers.