Senate passes bill allowing self-driving car testing in Idaho

Legislation now goes to the House for consideration

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Driverless cars came one step closer Thursday to hitting the road in Idaho, and local supporters are excited.

By a one-vote margin, the Idaho Senate passed a bill allowing companies to test self-driving cars in the state. The bill also sets regulations and guidelines involving safety.

It now goes to the House for consideration.

Nick Smoot, co-founder of the Innovation Collective in Coeur d'Alene, helped craft the contents of the bill and said he is excited to see it move out of the Senate no matter how close it was.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. Bert Brackett hopes the bill will attract businesses to Idaho.

"I believe this legislation strikes a balance between protecting public safety and encouraging innovation," he told lawmakers. "Idaho should encourage startup companies, which should result in economic development."

Eleven Republicans joined six of the Senate's seven Democrats in voting against the bill that passed 18-17.

Insurance and liability requirements contained in the bill faced bipartisan opposition.

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, who voted no, said the plan shouldn't put all the responsibility for damage on the company doing the testing while absolving manufacturers.

Smoot thinks that some legislators may be confused on that point.

"I think that if there is any damage caused by the modification of an automobile, those who modified it should be accountable for the damage," he said, explaining if a manufacturer has a recall, the manufacturer will be held liable.

Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said the bill's $1 million insurance policy requirement is too low. Brackett told lawmakers that a higher insurance requirement would likely drive businesses to other states.

Smoot agreed with Brackett and said an increased insurance policy is really unnecessary.

"Some companies have tested these cars for over one million miles and they have had no accidents while in autonomous mode," Smoot said. "A $1 million policy is very reasonable."

The plan says test drivers must be able to take manual control of the car if something goes wrong. This requirement prompted the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and tech-giant Google to oppose the plan, saying it blocks progress.

However, state Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, said he thinks the plan encourages development.

Smoot agreed with Vick, saying the desire is to attract research and development projects to the state.

"We need to make this state as accessible as possible and attractive to small business entrepreneurs," he said.

The plan doesn't require many test drivers to have any extra credentials. They must be 18 and have a valid driver's license.

Under the bill, the cars would have to be capable of capturing sensor data for at least 30 seconds before an accident happens.

Sens. Vick Mary Souza, R-Coeur d'Alene, and Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, all voted in favor of the bill.

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