Utah could soon change the legal definition of driver to include a machine

SALT LAKE CITY -- Autonomous vehicles are coming. It's just a matter of time.

In the next few weeks, the Utah State Legislature will meet and begin setting some of the rules of the road for self-driving cars and semis.

Google is testing out a prototype that will enable fully autonomous driving.  (CNN file image)

"It’s really going to change our lives. It’s going to change the way we move goods and services, it’s going to change the way we commute," said Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy.

Unlike other states that have overreacted to the rapidly advancing new technology, Rep. Spendlove said Utah should embrace it.

"We’re encouraging the development and testing and production of these cars and trucks in Utah," he said.

Rep. Spendlove is drafting bills to allow for autonomous vehicles in Utah. One would give companies experimenting with the technology some frameworks. The other would change Utah law to expand the definition of a "driver."

"Who is an operator? Right now, the assumption in state code is an operator is an individual like you or me. But in an autonomous world, that operator could be the machine," he said.

The Utah State Legislature has been studying the issue for some time now, preparing for the eventuality of autonomous vehicles on the roads. FOX 13 accompanied the legislature's Transportation Interim Committee as they rode in self-driving cars and on zero pollution buses being experimented on at Logan's Utah State University. Lawmakers have concerns about liability, insurance and public safety.

"We don’t want SkyNet," Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Taylorsville, joked at the time, referring to the killer machines in the "Terminator" movies. "Nobody wants that, but we do want our technology to work for us."

Rep. Spendlove said he believes passing legislation now could help lure more tech companies to Utah. He said those companies will also want to use Utah as a testing ground for self-driving vehicles because we offer something they can't get in Silicon Valley: mountain passes and winter.

"I was talking to Google over the summer and I said, 'OK, you’ve got an autonomous car, what happens if you have a snowstorm?' They said, 'Well, the car safely pulls over and waits until conditions improve.' But what if you’re at work?"