Self-Driving Cars without a Safety Driver Allowed in Florida

Technology, Trending Automotive News on September 11, 2019

Beginning on July 1, 2019, Florida law allowed autonomous vehicles to operate without the presence of a safety driver. This shift permits the state to stand out from California or Arizona, who are currently leaders in the self-driving industry.

Every other state continues to require the presence of a safety driver until the technology is thoroughly tested and deemed to be safe.

Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill as a way to lure automakers working with this technology into the state.

The Impact of the Florida Law Is Minimal

Although it seems like this new law in Florida could be tempting for Waymo One, Uber, and other service providers, the reality is a far different picture.

The law only applies to self-driving vehicles that come equipped with an automated driving system with a design that functions outside of a human operator. That means only Level 4 or Level 5 self-driving vehicles have coverage under the state’s legislation.

Florida set this stipulation for the same reason why every other service provider and automaker is moving slowly with this technology. After the fatality that occurred in Tempe in 2018, the general public has a few jitters about embracing this new approach to driving. Instead of rushing it out to the market, the goal is to prove that it is safe and effective.

There are also new requirements that self-driving ride-sharing services would need to follow because of this law. That includes holding primary liability coverage of at least $1 million for property damage, bodily injury, or death.

That means the reality of this legislation is that it won’t make much of an impact in either direction.

Should a Safety Driver Be Present?

How safe is “safe enough” when looking at the current state of self-driving technology? Is there some way to measure this concept?

The reality of the autonomous car is that more lives are going to be saved even if the vehicle is only slightly safer than a human-driven option. RAND Corporation found that a 10% improvement in safety translates into results.

If a car doesn’t have the correct technology or software, then who is responsible for that problem?

Until we have answers to the moral and legal questions that come up because of this technology, the presence of a safety driver is prudent. It is another layer of defense that can protect passengers and pedestrians from harm if an accident becomes unavoidable for some reason.

What might be more concerning about this new law in Florida is that it exempts safety drivers from distractions. Anyone in a position of potential control while behind the wheel is exempted from texting and distracted-driving activities. The automated system must be engaged for this exception to be valid.

Is it really safe for the safety driver to take their eyes off of the road?

Some see Florida planning for future technologies with this law. Others see it as a play for more investment money to come into the state. There is one thing we know for sure: Arizona, California, and other testing areas are going to continue to see self-driving cars driving on the streets.