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Driverless kid commutes could be a thing as lawmakers make a first move

SHARE Driverless kid commutes could be a thing as lawmakers make a first move

Autonomous test vehicles navigate a track at Autonomous Solutions Inc. in Mendon, Cache County, on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A waning 2020 legislative session may leave the idea at the curb, but a proposal to set new rules for unaccompanied minors to ride in self-driving cars for hire got a checkered flag from the House Transportation Committee on Friday.

The proposal form House Minority Caucus Manager Karen Kwan, D-Murray, would require a parental waiver to allow Utah children age 8-16 to jump into an automated Uber or Lyft without an adult as well as stipulate rules about fastening seat belts, having video documentation of the ride as well as an onboard emergency communication system.

While lawmakers balked at an earlier version of the bill, Kwan brought a revised edition back to committee members that addressed most of the concerns raised in a Tuesday hearing for HB414.

In the updated version, Kwan clarified that the rules would not apply to any future autonomous public transit vehicle. Other changes created an option for parents to waive a requirement for having an adult to meet their kids on the drop-off side of the ride and required that a parent or guardian was responsible for ensuring a properly fastened seat belt at the beginning of the ride.

Kwan repeatedly noted that the country’s two biggest on-demand network transportation companies, Uber and Lyft, both prohibit their drivers from giving rides to unaccompanied minors. But there is also ample evidence indicating older teens regularly secure rides with Uber and Lyft using accounts belonging to parents or guardians or themselves. A report last year from Vox noted that data from Current, a national debit card company that caters to teen customers, showed that “Uber and Lyft account for 94% of all taxi service transactions for customers age 13 to 18. Combined, these companies are the second-most popular merchant behind Apple when it comes to teen spending.”

Whether or not the same level of success in underage riders gaming the system would apply to driverless ride-hailing services remains to be seen. And while Kwan noted that a few ride-hailing companies have autonomous vehicles on the roads in a small number of U.S. cities, no such service is yet available in Utah.

HB414 was approved unanimously and now moves to the full House for further consideration.