High-tech road: Arizona lawmakers mull virtual driver's licenses, driverless cars - East Valley Tribune: Business

High-tech road: Arizona lawmakers mull virtual driver's licenses, driverless cars

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Posted: Saturday, February 11, 2012 11:39 am | Updated: 12:06 pm, Mon Feb 13, 2012.

State lawmakers are moving to make life a bit easier the next time you're pulled over and asked for your license, insurance and registration.

No, it won't get you out of getting a ticket. But it may prevent you from having to fish out your wallet or scrounge through the glove box.

Of course, all that assumes that just because you're behind the wheel that you're actually driving the car. Legislators also are weighing whether the state should take the first steps to let "autonomous" driverless vehicles on state roads.

All these ideas are being pushed by state Rep. Jeff Dial, R-Chandler. He said it just makes sense for Arizona to stay one step ahead of the technology.

Consider the driver's license.

"I know whenever I go hiking or I go to the gym, one of the things you've always got to carry with you is that government-issued ID," he said. In fact, Dial said, that's often the only reason he has the wallet with him.

Now it is true that someone behind the wheel of a vehicle should have that wallet. But Dial said that isn't always the case.

"People generally always grab their cell phone," he said. "I don't know that they always grab their wallet."

He envisions a "virtual" driver's license. That "document" would exist on the cell phone, containing exactly the same information as the plastic one.

And the officer wanting the license? Simply hand over the phone.

Dial said it also may be more secure.

He said it's not hard to find places on the Internet that are willing to produce counterfeit Arizona driver licenses, complete with the security features and the hologram, for $400. He said the state could have a verification system where the phone would "ping" the Motor Vehicle Division computer.

Colleagues on the House Transportation Committee appear not quite ready to make that leap. So Dial is recrafting HB 2678 to form a committee to study the issue.

He had better luck, though, with a plan to let motorists provide proof of insurance simply by showing a copy of the certificate on the smart phone.

Under the terms of HB 2677, drivers could simply take a picture of the card with their phone and carry it along. That photo would provide the same legal proof of minimum coverage as the card or actual insurance policy, the only documents now accepted.

And down the road, Dial said insurance companies could simply send an electronic certificate to policyholders, eliminating the need for that paper document in the first place.

That clearly interested Rep. Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley.

"I could have used this technology a couple of weeks ago," he said.

"I had my phone and my computer and everything in my car," Meyer explained. But the insurance card in the vehicle had expired and the police officer was unwilling to let him prove on his computer that he actually had coverage.

"And he gave me a ticket," Meyer said in voting in the Transportation Committee this past week to approve the bill.

Dial said he crafted a third measure to create a paperless registration certificate but did not push it this year because of the cost.

"We are kind of in a budget crunch right now," Dial said.

And then there are those driverless cars Dial believes will eventually be on Arizona roads.

His HB 2679 would require the state Department of Transportation to adopt rules authorizing "autonomous" vehicles, operated hands-free by computers using optics, lasers, radar, global positioning systems and something called LIDAR, for light-detecting and ranging, which uses a rotating mirror atop a vehicle to get a three-dimensional image of what is around it.

It would not actually permit ADOT to give the final green light to the driverless cars. What it would allow, though, is testing.

Nevada adopted a similar law last year.

The plan hit a big speed bump this past week when Dial could get only two members of the Transportation Committee to approve. But he's not done yet, vowing to reintroduce the measure later this session.

This time, though, he's hoping to have help. Really big help.

"Google said they would be happy to fly people out here and educate people because they would like to come here and test a vehicle," he said.

The Internet giant did that earlier this month in Florida where a similar proposal faces lawmakers.

Having driverless cars would eliminate one other perennial fight at the Capitol: It would no longer be necessary to keep motorists from texting.

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