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After stalling, autonomous vehicle bill made it to the finish line in the Kentucky legislature.

Verona GOP Senator Gex Williams explains AV legislation
Stu Johnson
Verona GOP Senator Gex Williams explains AV legislation

The Kentucky General Assembly has given final approval to legislation paving the way for autonomous vehicle use on state roadways. The measure includes a phase-in approach to driverless operation.

Passage of the AV bill came late into the night on the last day before a ten-day veto recess. It included, at times, emotional debate. In the end it barely passed at 20-18. Verona GOP Senator Gex Williams says the amended bill requires a driver for vehicles for the first two years.

“They, in fact, are better than a human driver who gets tired, who may get intoxicated, who may get distracted by what’s going in the cab. Those autonomous vehicles will not,” said Williams.

Opponents included Louisville Democratic Senator Cassie Chambers Armstrong, whose mother was killed just a few miles from the State Capitol after being rear-ended by a truck. Chambers Armstrong said she believes the technology may get to a place where it needs to be, but added, it’s not there now.

Louisville Democratic Senator Karen Berg spoke about a recent incident on a bridge near Louisville where a truck dangled over the side and included a dramatic rescue. Berg said additional details showed how the truck driver did all possible to avoid oncoming traffic.

“Turned her wheel to the left and intentionally took her truck to the edge of the bridge, on purpose to save lives. Would an electric vehicle know how to do this?” asked Berg.

The initial bill required a driver in autonomous vehicles only for the very large trucks for the first two years. It was changed in the two-chamber process to make that requirement for all Avs, cars and trucks, for the first two years. And Williams said the bill pertains to a certain type of AV, vehicles that have undergone more rigorous testing.

The Senate also debated amendments prior to passage of the bill. One would have allowed limited use of AVs within five miles of airports initially. Avs are currently being used at some airports nationally. That amendment was defeated as well as another dealing with insurance coverage. It would have increased the requirement for liability insurance from one to five million dollars. Winchester GOP Senator Greg Elkins, who’s in the trucking business, said one million dollars in coverage falls well short of what should be required. As he put it, if an AV truck crash resulted in a fatality with one million dollars in coverage, he would be out of the business the next day.

 

Truckers rallied outside the Kentucky Senate on 03-11-24
Stu Johnson
Truckers rallied outside the Kentucky Senate on 03-11-24

 
During committee consideration, representatives of the trucking industry testified against the bill, citing safety concerns and job losses. When the bill first appeared on the Senate’s Orders of the Day, a contingent of truckers made their voices heard loudly outside the Senate Chambers. The bill was passed over numerous times until being called within two hours of the midnight deadline.

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Stu has been reporting for WEKU for more than 35 years. His primary beat is Lexington/Fayette government.
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