Washington prepares for autonomous vehicles

SEATTLE — Washington State officials kicked off an autonomous vehicle work group on Wednesday, looking into what rules might be needed as the technology rolls out.

"Nobody wants to over-regulate and stifle that innovation but at the same time we also have to be looking out for public safety," said Reema Griffith, executive director of the Washington State Transportation Commission.

Safety is a critical question after a self-driving Uber SUV struck and killed a woman in Arizona as she stepped into a road outside the lines of a crosswalk.

A police report said the human backup driver was watching "The Voice" on her phone.

"People need to be aware as these things come on the market that they still need to drive, they still need to be tuned in to the vehicle," Griffith said.

That's because automation will be phased in.

"Total automation in all places, in all circumstances, is I think a really long way away still," said Scott Shogan, connected and automated vehicle market leader for WSP USA.

When human drivers eventually leave the picture, it will upend a lot of things we know, including car insurance.

Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kriedler said liability will shift to the car makers and programmers, and away from people.

"Maybe you're not a particularly good driver -- you're going to be saved by autonomous vehicles," Kriedler said.

Seven companies have self-certified with the Department of Licensing for testing.

Griffith says she doesn't know of any active tests now.

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