TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Michigan likely will be a mecca for automated-vehicle development if Kirk Steudle stays the director of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

“(MDOT) and the Secretary of State agree that testing of automated vehicles is currently permitted with a manufacturer’s license plate, and has always been permitted,” he tells attendees at the Management Briefing Seminars here.

“There is testing going on that is happening today. They are allowed on Michigan roads. Nevada and California needed new laws. We have been doing this for years.”

Steudle believes in the future of automated driving, although he says there are many hurdles, the largest being assigning liability in the case of a problem.

Even entities that are not manufacturers can do road testing if they register the vehicle in Michigan, “but we hold you responsible,” he says. “The person behind the wheel is the one that’s going to get fined or get the bill if there is an accident.”

Michigan has 900 fatalities on its roads annually, and 80% involve driver error. But Steudle notes, “If driver error isn’t there, lanes become narrower, merge distances become shorter, curves are more compact, because the (automated) cars know how to drive them.”

With self-driving cars, the efficiency of traffic-signal timing also can be improved, so everybody flows through as smoothly as possible, he says. Lanes that are 12 ft. (3.7 m) wide can be reduced in size, because cars only are 8 ft. (2.4 m) wide. But in the old days, they wandered across the 12 feet.

Steudle has promoted the connected car for years in Michigan, and he says automated models are the natural extension of vehicles that communicate with each other.

But when a traffic incident does happen, “Who gets the ticket?” he asks rhetorically. “Where do you place the blame? The operator turns on (the car). What if that person is 12? What if they are under the influence? If the car drives itself, do we care or not?”