MONTPELIER — The public is being asked what it thinks the rules should be for testing automated vehicles on Vermont’s roads.

An online public hearing will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Oct. 15, hosted by the Vermont Traffic Committee. Go to bit.ly/AVinfo2020 to find the link to join the meeting as well as documents related to the matter.

Joe Segale, policy, planning and research bureau director at the Vermont Agency of Transportation, on Wednesday said the Legislature passed a law in 2019 allowing automated vehicles to be tested on Vermont roads. The law directed AOT to develop guidance documents as well as a permit application and related process.

Segale said seeking public comment is part of the latter.

According to Segale, the test vehicles will have to be marked as such, have a human operator inside who can take control if needed, and municipalities will be able to say on which roads the vehicles are allowed to be tested.

AOT has received comments from people in the automated vehicle industry. According to AOT, Wayne Weikel, senior director at Alliance of Automotive Innovation, expressed concerns in a letter about the time frame in which an AV tester would need to notify state officials of a crash, saying the 12-hour window was too short. The AOT document indicated the window was expanded to 24 hours.

According to AOT, Weikel in a letter expressed concerns about legal liability, as well.

“The draft proposal calls for the tester to fully indemnify the state or municipality from any liability arising out of a crash involving an automated vehicle,” he wrote. “Such a blanket indemnification is unjustified. There are situations in which a state or municipality could carry some degree of responsibility in an accident involving an automated vehicle. Take, for example, a stop sign that has been knocked over/removed from an intersection.”

The agency responded that the current indemnity language in these rules are the same the state uses elsewhere and only apply to the actions of the applicant.

Segale said there was some initial interest from automated vehicle makers in testing them out in Vermont, but most, it seems, are waiting to see what the rules are.

“At the moment, they aren’t knocking down the door,” he said, but that might change, as Vermont offers a wide variety of terrain and weather conditions to work in.

“Eventually these vehicles are going to have to be able to operate everywhere, or else no one will want them,” he said. “We want to be ready for that and we want this technology to come to Vermont as soon as it can.”

He said AOT has also been talking with other New England states about having similar rules between them, as automated vehicles will likely have to cross state lines at some point.

keith.whitcomb@rutlandherald.com

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