Twenty-two states and Washington, D.C., have enacted legislation related to self-driving cars. New Jersey is thinking about joining them – but isn’t in a rush.

The Senate Transportation Committee was scheduled to take up a bill this week that would allow autonomous vehicles to be tested on state roadways, then delayed action. Sen. Robert Gordon said the bill, S2149, is being rewritten to better account for advancements in technology.

“There’s no great rush to get this done. We’re not facing a deadline, as far as I know,” said Gordon, D-Bergen. “We might as well try to do this right and do this in a very deliberative way.”

The delay also came a week after a self-driving car struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona.

“It just reminds us that we need to this right and consider all the contingencies,” Gordon said.

Pointing to the March 18 crash in Arizona, Sen. James Holzapfel, R-Monmouth, said the cars need passenger input and someone ready to hit the brakes if there is an undetected pedestrian.

“It seems to me that if we approve this type of operation that at least in the beginning there should probably be two people in the vehicle.

Sen. Nicholas Sacco, D-Hudson, said there are many complications, citing one instance in which an autonomous car rammed a truck because it couldn’t detect its paint and mistook it for open road.

“We seem to be a long way from finding out every possible thing that can go wrong and until we know that, we’re not going to feel safe with them,” Sacco said.

Human error causes 94 percent of car crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Self-driving cars are expected to reduce those accidents eventually.

Carmakers and insurers say self-driving cars are inevitable. But Christine O’Brien, president of the Insurance Council of New Jersey, said it will require changes in road infrastructure, such as sensors on guardrails and overpasses, and how risk is assessed.

“It’s not Jetson-like, but it’s almost to that extent in terms of what’s being envisioned for how self-driving vehicles will ultimately function on our roadways,” O’Briens adi.

O’Brien says it’s important to insurers to have access to collected data, especially about crashes, to properly assess risk and safety. Insurance would essentially cover technology, rather than drivers.

“From our standpoint, like most insurance standpoints, we just say proceed with caution, please,” O’Brien said.


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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