State Rep. Sara Gelser is attracting attention for a bill she’s sponsoring in the Legislature that could help clear the way for the testing and use of autonomous vehicles on Oregon roads.
Don’t know the term “autonomous vehicles” yet? You will: It’s the technical term for driverless cars — the logical extension of the technology that currently allows certain models of vehicles to parallel-park themselves.
Gelser’s bill, House Bill 2428, simply would clarify that these vehicles are allowed on Oregon highways. “I would like for Oregon to have the best laws to test these vehicles,” she told us in a recent meeting.
Gelser’s interest in the development of driverless vehicles is tied into her long-running interest in helping people — especially people with disabilities — become and remain self-sufficient. There’s little doubt that driverless cars could be a real boon for seniors and people with disabilities. At the least, it would add a welcome new option for those discussions with aging parents about when they need to stop driving.
These driverless cars use a variety of technologies to sense their environment and navigate without human input. Humans select their destinations, of course, but don’t have to actually operate the vehicle.
And if you’re thinking that these autonomous cars belong in some science-fiction movie, think again: Companies including Nissan, Toyota and Audi already have developed working autonomous prototypes. Even Google has developed a prototype of a driverless car.
Oregon wouldn’t even be the first state to pass legislation regarding autonomous vehicles: Nevada earned that honor, back in 2011. Since then, Florida and California have followed suit.
Gelser’s bill would require that manufacturers of autonomous cars get certification from the Oregon Department of Transportation and calls for the department to adopt rules to test these vehicles.
The bill also mandates certain requirements for these vehicles: For example, it requires the vehicles to have a mechanism that would allow operators to easily disengage the autonomous system. And it would require the vehicles to have an alarm system in place to notify operators in the event of a system failure.
Gelser’s bill would help prepare Oregon and its residents for a future that’s coming a lot faster than most people think.