Will NY scrap old law to allow self-driving cars?

Legislators are trying to update a 45-year-old New York state law that currently makes self-driving cars illegal.

As reported by Gothamist, New York is the only US state legally requiring drivers to keep at least one hand on the steering wheel when the vehicle is moving. This technicality makes it illegal to test or demonstrate autonomous vehicles in the state, while also forbidding the use of parking assist features currently installed on certain cars.

Now State Senator Joseph Robach is looking to bring NY into sync with emerging autonomous vehicle technology by presenting a bill to amend the Vehicle and Traffic Law. If passed the revised law will make drivers maintain one hand on the wheel of moving cars except when “driving technology is engaged to perform the steering function.”

“We are just trying to have the law match up to the technology that people are using today and I think is only going to grow down the road,” said Robach who is also chair of the Transportation Committee.

How will scrapping law affect NYC traffic?

However, some politicians have raised concerns that driverless cars could pose dangers to others, especially in built-up urban areas like New York City.

“Self-driving car technology certainly has a lot of promise, but it’s in the very early stages of development,” said Liz Krueger, a State Senator who represents parts of Manhattan. “Right now I don’t think we’re at a place where we should be seeing driverless cars of any sort on the streets of Manhattan—there are simply too many variables, with pedestrians, bikes, delivery trucks, taxis.”

“If our laws and regulations need to be adjusted to allow for more R&D, that’s something that should be done carefully and deliberately, not by simply saying it’s okay to take your hands off the steering wheel,” she adds.

However, Senator Krueger may not have seen the Columbia University study that specifically examined Manhattan’s yellow taxi fleet. The report concluded that if NYC’s downtown borough replaced its cabs with a smaller number of driverless taxis, the cost-per-mile could fall from around $4 to $0.50 per ride. As well traffic congestion would be reduced.

Robach’s amendment has passed a Senate vote but now must survive a vote in the State Assembly. Proponents of autonomous vehicles hope that lawmakers remain in favor of the hands-off legal approach to driverless cars.

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