Florida’s Autonomous Vehicle Law – 2016: First State to Legalize Fully Self-Driving Cars

Florida Justice Association Journal

March 1, 2017

On March 11, 2016, Florida legislators voted unanimously to approve House Bill 7027. When that bill was signed on April 4, 2016, and went into effect on July 1, 2016, Florida became the nation’s first state to legalize fully autonomous vehicles on public roads without a driver behind the wheel.

If the vehicle can drive itself without input from a driver, then Florida statute 316.003(2) considers it to be an autonomous vehicle:

Any vehicle equipped with autonomous technology [is an autonomous vehicle]. The term “autonomous technology means technology installed on a motor vehicle that has the capability to drive the vehicle on which the technology is installed without the active control or monitoring by a human operator. The term excludes a motor vehicle enabled with active safety systems or driver assistance systems, including, without limitation, a system to provide electronic blind spot assistance, crash avoidance, emergency braking, parking assistance, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assistance, lane departure warning, or traffic jam and queuing assistant, unless any such system alone or in combination with other systems enables the vehicle on which the technology is installed to drive without the active control or monitoring by a human operator.

Florida law also allows any person that possesses a valid driver’s license to operate an autonomous vehicle in autonomous mode.  No specialized safety education is required before a person is legally permitted to operate an autonomous vehicle on Florida’s roadways. Furthermore, the person operating the autonomous vehicle does not even have to be in the vehicle when it is driving in Florida autonomously.

Under the law, it appears to follow that an operator and/or owner of an autonomous vehicle could be liable for a crash despite not being in or near his or her vehicle at the time it occurred.