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Florida House State Affairs Committee Approves Bill That Could Allow Self-Driving Cars on Road Without Human Backup

As Uber and Lyft continue to develop their self-driving car technology, a committee in the Florida house has voted in support of a bill that would expand the rights of these companies to operate their autonomous cars without a human present.

The House State Affairs Committee, in a 20-1 vote, approved a bill that would legally allow self-driving cars to operate on Florida roads without the presence of a human in the car for backup. The bill will reach the entirety of the House for a vote soon, and an accompanying Senate bill is also traveling through the legislature.

Florida lawmakers specified the desire to have their state at the forefront of this new technology as a reason for the bill’s creation. The bill allows “drivers” (i.e. the people in the front seat of autonomous vehicles) to legally watch television, read, or use their phone while riding in a self-driving car. Alternatively, a separate bill approved by the committee prohibits texting and other distracting acts while driving.

Safety is an obvious concern in the consideration of this bill. As regular use of self-driving cars becomes more of a reality every day, many are skeptical about whether or not the cars will be able to safely navigate roads and traffic. Brendan Farrington’s AP News article on the bill cites a 2018 accident in Arizona, in which one of Uber’s self-driving cars hit and killed a pedestrian.

Autonomous vehicles are a fairly new phenomenon, with safety testing still relatively incomplete and plenty of legal questions left unanswered. As their use becomes more widespread throughout the country, the impact of laws like Florida’s still-developing bills will become more apparent.

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