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Thomas DeLattre and Glen D. Wieland

Florida is Leading the Charge on Self-Driving Car Law

On Behalf of | Apr 21, 2017 | Florida Laws |

self-driving car law

In 2017, we may not be able to zip over to Mars for afternoon tea or take the hoverboard down to Publix to grab a gallon of milk. Despite this somewhat disappointing reality, technology has grown immensely since the science fiction novels, radio shows and movies of the 1950s began forecasting how life in the 21st century would play out for humanity. Though falling short of The Jetsons, cell phones, the internet, virtual reality and, now, autonomous cars, are real pieces of tech that promise to continue developing and evolving into inseparable appendages of modern life.

With the advancements made in technology, our law must also advance and update with the times. As we often deal with car accident law and driving safety, Florida’s stance on self-driving car law is fascinating and important for us to share with the greater public, who may be asking the same questions as we were when the concept of a fully autonomous car began to look more and more possible.

What are Self-Driving Cars?

For those unaware about this relatively new advancement in automobiles, companies like Mercedes-Benz, GM, Tesla, Nissan and many more are putting big bucks behind the technology that would, ostensibly, make the act of driving obsolete. Utilizing GPS systems combined with sensor technology that can, in real time, recognize and react to dynamic conditions found on every roadway (unexpected stops, swerving vehicles, construction zones, etc.), self-driving cars could allow drivers to spend their commutes safely taking calls, emailing associates or surfing the web without a worry. That being said, the tech is still in the prototyping phase, with current self-driving cars still requiring drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel and remain aware of their surroundings.

Advancements of Florida’s Self-Driving Car Law

Florida stands as one of the most lenient states when it comes to self-driving cars. As of 2016, it is legal in the state of Florida to allow a self-driving car to operate without a human present in the vehicle-the small caveat being that the operator must be able to be alerted in case of vehicle failure. No special permits are required for owning and operating self-driving cars, which is great news for companies like Uber that see autonomous cars as a potentially bright future for driver-free taxi services. The impact on Florida’s drivers? Well, that is where the debate is.

Many who oppose Florida’s laid-back approach to self-driving car law purport that the lack of regulation puts all of us at risk. For comparison, other states require that the vehicle is operated only for testing purposes only, or simply have not adopted a stance on the subject at all yet. Though driverless car operators are currently still required to have a valid driver’s license, that may change with the definition of “operator.”

If, in the future, self-driving cars become proficient (and safe) enough to truly utilize to their full potential, a driver’s license may no longer be necessary, as the operator will, technically, be the vehicle itself. Just as passively as one boards a subway car or commuter bus, so could we someday be driven to work by our own vehicle.

All of this being said, we are not at that point yet. In fact, Florida was the location of the first reported self-driving car death, which involved Telsa’s Autopilot system. As we alluded to before, this system, in particular, makes it known that it is in its “beta testing” phase and that drivers must still work as a failsafe for the self-driving tech.

Future and Safety

These updates to self-driving car law, which removed the need for an in-car operator among other things, seems to have been made with monetary interests top of mind. It may be cynical to view these leniencies in this manner, but when a state Senator openly courts Uber on Twitter, it is hard to see it as anything but a business investment. Our stance is always with safety as the primary concern. If the tech can improve its dependability, then we see no problem with laws that reflect that. Until then, Florida’s self-driving car laws may be a little too loose for comfort.


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