Florida Claims to be a Driverless Car Paradise. Critics Call It a Lawless Mess
The Sunshine State is luring AV companies with lax legislation, perennial fair weather, and an endless supply of retirees
In August 2012, just days before Floridians were set to vote in the primaries, Republican state house representative Jeff Brandes became the target of a peculiar attack ad.
“Technology is great, but driverless cars? Is this really a priority for our state?” an incredulous narrator asks in the 30-second ad. Canned footage shows an empty Prius roaming the streets of a cookie-cutter neighborhood, plowing through a stop sign, and nearly running over a woman with a walker. “Well, it was a priority for Jeff Brandes.”
The narrator accuses Brandes of being “out of touch” and too preoccupied with “driverless, remote-controlled cars” to fix Florida’s economy. The ad includes a soundbite of Brandes telling a local news station, “I had to convince the senate it wasn’t witchcraft” and ends with a bone-crushing car crash off screen.
Despite the ad, Brandes won the primary a few days later, and secured the general election in November. He still won’t stop talking about AVs.
In Florida, “self-driving companies do not have to deal with some of the more challenging issues of self-driving,” Brandes says. “You can operate here year round. There’s good lane line infrastructure that’s heavily maintained. And we have a population where you can make a business case.” Florida’s population is the third-largest in the country, he notes, and the state hosts nearly 120 million tourists each year.
Brandes is an AV crusader. Shortly after he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2010, he watched a TED Talk by computer scientist Sebastian Thrun about the future of transportation, which inspired him to make mobility the crux of his platform.