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Stitt signs autonomous vehicle bill

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One of the test vehicles from Argo AI, Ford's autonomous vehicle unit, navigates near the company offices in Pittsburgh. Gov. Kevin Stitt signed legislation Tuesday prohibiting Oklahoma cities and counties from regulating autonomous vehicles. [AP photo]
One of the test vehicles from Argo AI, Ford's autonomous vehicle unit, navigates near the company offices in Pittsburgh. Gov. Kevin Stitt signed legislation Tuesday prohibiting Oklahoma cities and counties from regulating autonomous vehicles. [AP photo]

Cities and counties are banned from regulating autonomous vehicles, according to legislation signed Tuesday by Gov. Kevin Stitt.

Senate Bill 365 mandates that state law will supersede any city and county ordinance that "prohibits, restricts or regulates the testing or operation of motor vehicles equipped with driving automation systems." It also creates definitions for autonomous vehicles, which gives lawmakers a basis for regulation in the future.

"It ensures that any legislation or regulation that’s related to the operation to motor vehicles equipped with automation systems, that it’s exclusively a state authority to deal with the regulation of that," said the bill's author, state Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair. "We didn’t want to deal with a situation that’s a hodgepodge of laws."

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a leading advocacy group for autonomous vehicles, supports the bill "because it will provide a uniform policy for driving automation systems in the state instead of a complicated patchwork of laws that may erode, rather than enhance, safety," said Senior Vice President Tom McMahon.

While autonomous vehicles are being tested in other states, notably California and Pennsylvania, there's been only moderate interest in Oklahoma. According to the National Council of State Legislatures, 29 states have enacted some kind of autonomous vehicle law.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation is now leading a task force to discuss future policies, and the Legislature held an interim study on driverless vehicles.

Despite lagging behind other states, Oklahoma is at the literal crossroads when it comes to the future of autonomous transportation. A technology already deployed on America's interstates is platooning, a term that describes interconnected tractor-trailers working with each other to increase safety and efficiency.

Without the new law, cities could limit the use of autonomous vehicles in a way that is more strict than others.

"Nobody would know what they’re driving into. By not having that, we’re making sure that we’re not hindering the development or deployment of these technologies that can be life-improving or lifesaving," Bergstrom said. "Driving automation systems can be anything from completely self-driving vehicles, but it also includes things like a self-parking vehicle. Basically we’re trying to make sure we don’t have municipalities or counties coming in and interfering with this development."

Bergstrom said he plans on studying autonomous vehicles more this summer after the Legislature adjourns.

Dale Denwalt

Dale Denwalt has closely followed state policy and politics since his first internship as an Oklahoma Capitol reporter in 2006. He graduated from Northeastern State University in his hometown of Tahlequah. Denwalt worked as a news reporter in... Read more ›

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