Autonomous Cars a No-Go in New Hampshire

By: Bridget Clerkin August 17, 2018
New Hampshire’s motto may be “Live Free or Die,” but that liberty doesn’t extend to autonomous cars, according to governor Chris Sununu, who’s blocked self-driving companies from testing in the state.
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New Hampshire may be the Granite State, but it’s come down harder than stone on autonomous cars.

Governor Chris Sununu last month vetoed a bill that would have paved the way for testing the futuristic technology there. The surprising move bucks a national trend toward a deep embrace of the vehicles and ignores an unofficial competition across the country to lure the most self-driving car companies across state lines.

Designed to welcome autonomous vehicles onto state roads starting in 2019, the bill did not do enough to address potential safety issues, Sununu said. He cited the deadly March incident in which an Arizona woman was struck and killed by a self-driving vehicle while she was crossing the street as evidence that the technology still needs much more work—and oversight—before it can be let loose.

The measure—House Bill 314—did include some regulations for the vehicles. A permit process was devised in which companies would have needed to prove to the state that any test rides had successfully run in a closed environment and were insured by a policy worth at least $10 million. Permits would cost $500 and be distributed on a car-by-car basis.

Still, the rules would have only applied to vehicles with Level 5 autonomy—the highest classification of self-driving car—given to rides that can essentially drive themselves and, in many cases, don’t require a steering wheel or pedals.

The designation is still out of reach even for the companies furthest down the autonomous road. And with the way the bill was drawn up, any other level of self-driving vehicle would have been immune from the state’s regulations.

That loophole was problematic for Sununu, as the Arizona incident, as well as another death at the hands of a self-driving vehicle, occurred in cars designated a Level 4.

“This issue is just too serious to allow a bill to give the appearance of responsible oversight, when in fact little would change on the ground,” the governor wrote in a letter, officially explaining his veto decision. “This legislation may attract less responsible actors to New Hampshire to develop autonomous vehicle technology and could result in a more dangerous testing environment on New Hampshire’s roads.”

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