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Ky. bill for self-driving vehicles passes in Senate committee

The exterior of the Kentucky Capitol
J. Tyler Franklin
/
LPM
House Bill 7 sponsor Rep. Josh Bray said during the Senate committee hearing Thursday that it could benefit Kentucky's economy.

House Bill 7, regarding autonomous vehicles, passed Thursday in Kentucky’s Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee. The bill would add regulations for self-driving vehicles on state roadways.

House Bill 7 would establish rules and regulations to allow autonomous vehicles, also known as self-driving vehicles, to operate on Kentucky roadways. These regulations would be administered by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

“The automation of driving has been an aspiration for decades,” James Higdon, Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association legislative agent, said during a hearing Thursday. “And for years, many have questioned when autonomous vehicles will be on our roads. And today I can proudly say they are here now.”

HB 7 passed in a 8-2 vote in the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee. The opposition came from Democratic Minority Caucus Chair Sen. Reginald Thomas and Democratic Sen. Denise Harper Angel.

The regulations would apply to personal vehicles, trucks, ride-share cars and semitrucks, according to Republican Rep. Josh Bray, a sponsor of the bill.

If enacted, driverless vehicles will require the same legal documentation as other vehicles including state registration, a state title, and proof of car insurance. HB 7 would also require the autonomous vehicle’s owner to obtain a minimum $1 million insurance policy for death or bodily injury and personal property damage.

The owner must also submit a “law enforcement interaction plan” to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Kentucky State Police in the event the autonomous vehicle gets in an accident, needs to be towed, or poses a public safety risk.

When the vehicle is in operation, the car’s owner would be considered the licensed driver to adhere to traffic and motor vehicle laws, under the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

On Thursday, Thomas raised concerns that driverless vehicles could be dangerous on state roadways.

A 2022 national study, commissioned by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, found that 9.1 vehicle accidents per one million miles traveled occurred with autonomous vehicles, compared to 4.1 accidents with human drivers.

Other Kentucky labor unions joined AFL-CIO in opposing the bill on Thursday. Christina Hicks, with Teamsters Local 615, said semitruck drivers are worried HB 7 could affect employment.

“Area members fear that they may lose their jobs, health care, retirement and jeopardize public safety on Kentucky highways,” Hicks said.

Bray argued that this could relieve the nationwide truck driver shortage, in reference to a 2023 study that revealed a shortage of about 80,000 drivers. He said autonomous vehicles are meant to aid shipping companies facing increased consumerism, not replace truck drivers.

The bill requires any autonomous vehicle over 62,000 pounds to have a driver for two years after the automated driving system is implemented, Bray said.

Giselle is LPM's breaking news reporter. Email Giselle at grhoden@lpm.org.
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