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Arizona leads the way in driverless cars, others catching on and catching up

The physical distance between Detroit and Phoenix is exactly 2,007 miles. But in other important ways these two regions are becoming much closer, despite vastly different climates, terrains, and cultures. This newfound kinship is largely built around rapidly advancing innovation in autonomous vehicle technology, and the role the Phoenix area has played in its early testing phase.


Paul Hemmersbaugh

Just how fast is self-driving vehicle technology developing? Consider that General Motors recently announced that it has rolled off of its production line in Orion, Michigan, 130 shiny new self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EV test vehicles – the only company to assemble autonomous vehicles in a mass production facility. These fully integrated self-driving vehicles will be added to GM’s existing fleet of 50 test vehicles. With production scale capability now proven, the pace of robust self-driving vehicle testing will accelerate. In turn, that will help take us closer to the beginning of actual safe deployment of cars without drivers.

And this is where Arizona comes into play. Visionary leaders at all levels – from Governor Ducey to local elected officials – sent the clearest signals early on, that self-driving vehicles would be welcome here. Arizona’s forward-thinking embrace of this new technology has been returned by the industry, with robust vehicle testing programs underway in Scottsdale, Tempe, and Chandler. With this pioneering approach, Arizona rightly claims a leading role in advancing this breakthrough technology in the U.S.

But it should come as no surprise that others are catching on and catching up. Perhaps inspired by the leadership of Governor Ducey, other states including Texas, Georgia, Colorado, Tennessee, and Nevada have recently passed legislation enabling the testing, development, and deployment of self-driving vehicles.

At GM, we’ve supported passage of legislation that creates a legal framework for self-driving vehicles. That’s because existing laws regarding driver’s licenses and other matters are based on vehicles moving human drivers. While many jurisdictions do not explicitly prohibit cars without drivers to operate on public roads, they also do not expressly authorize the operation of driverless cars. Our view – one shared by many in our industry – is that certainty and clarity are needed in state laws and policy.
New state laws, taking a cue from Arizona, set out broad parameters that will foster innovation and competition in the development of self-driving vehicles, while including important safety requirements.

With GM’s dramatic test vehicle fleet expansion and the drumbeat of innovation from other automakers and tech firms, it’s clear that self-driving vehicles will become reality in time. It’s also clear from the flurry of recent state legislation that Arizona cannot be complacent if it hopes to maintain its leadership role.

We’ve heard several elected officials declare a desire for their state or town to be the “Kitty Hawk of self-driving vehicles.” As an automaker committed to a new, transformative vision for mobility, GM likes the sound of that. Just as we have liked the warm welcome our testing program has received here in Arizona. We commend the state for its vision and urge policymakers to be vigilant in ensuring that Arizona holds on to its ‘first mover’ status in embracing the self-driving vehicle industry.

— Paul Hemmersbaugh is chief counsel and public policy director, transportation as a service, at General Motors.


The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.


  1. The title is like saying, “Arizona leads the nation in sprawl.” Not something to write home about.

    Mass self-driving vehicles are at least 25 years into the future, including reworking our roads and street technology to accommodate them (at a phenomenal price). It’s unlikely that the author of this article, or anyone reading it, is going to give a hoot if and when self-driving vehicles come into vogue.

    PS Who’s going to hire all the out of work truck drivers, taxi drivers, couriers, and others who make their livings driving vehicles? They apparently don’t matter much to technophiles like the author, who see only profits to be made from their displacement and dis-employment. A pretty cold take on sociotechnology.

  2. PS Instead of giving every person his or her own self-driving tin can, how about first perfecting public transit, of the quality it has attained in Europe? A north-south high-speed train connecting Nogales to Flagstaff via Tucson and Phoenix (the I-10 route), and another connecting AZ to to L.A. and San Diego via Yuma (the I-8 route), would be bigger boons for average Arizonans than automating increasingly crowded traffic jams on sprawling city streets. Think out of the box, Mr. Hemersbaugh. Like your paycheck didn’t depend on it.

  3. PPS GM’s going to sink or swim in with Gov. Ducey in 2018? Good luck with that.

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