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Gov. Jay Inslee gets behind the wheel of the Tesla X as his chief of staff, David Postman, looks on. (John Stang Photo)

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Genny Carter made Gov. Jay inslee check his wallet.

Yep. He was carrying his driver’s license.

Cleared for driving, Inslee piled several staff members into the back of a new all-electric, semi-autonomous Tesla X late Monday morning before he took it out for a drive. The test drive fit in with the environment-oriented governor’s push for carbon-free fuel to help reduce greenhouse gases. Also, the governor is somewhat of a science geek.

Carter, a Tesla sales administrator, talked Inslee through the intricacies of being behind the wheel of a semi-autonomous all-electric Tesla before it silently rolled off to cruise around Olympia.

This Tesla X version has a range of 295 miles before needing a recharge. It can hit 62 mph in 4.8 seconds. Its price tag is just under $100,000. Its semi-autonomous features include being aware of traffic, speed and lanes — signaling the driver when things get too complicated for its software.

Inslee pointed out that the overwhelming majority of Washington’s electricity comes from carbon-free hydropower. “I’m probably driving the (environmentally) cleanest car in the world,” Inslee said.

And he praised semi-autonomous vehicles’ potential to make roads safer, citing statistics that 94 percent of vehicle crashes are due to human errors. Before driving off, Inslee said he would like to eventually test-drive Google’s semi-autonomous Lexus SUV being tested in Kirkland.

SAE International — which sets global standards and definitions on transportation — has designated five levels of automated vehicles.

  • Level zero is an ordinary car with a driver.
  • Level 1 covers features such as cruise control and parking help.
  • Level 2 includes some steering, acceleration and de-acceleration help, which is as far as commercial automated technology has reached so far.
  • Level 3 will have the vehicle doing most of the driving while having a human in the driver’s seat to help in certain situations. This level is expected to be ready for government testing in 2018,. The Tesla driven by Inslee appeared to be between a Level 2 and a Level 3.
  • Level 4 will have the vehicle drive itself without asking the human in the driver’s seat to intervene, but the person will be there to take over. This level is expected to be ready for government testing in 2021.
  • Level 5 has no one in the driver’s seat. No target date has to set for perfecting this level.

Meanwhile, the Washington House’s technology and transportation committees have just begun brainstorming the many legal and regulatory issues involved with different levels of semi-autonomous and fully autonomous vehicles.

A few issues include: Who is responsible for a collision? Would an owner be legally responsible for upgrading a vehicle’s software? What are the test standards for an automated vehicle to become street legal in Washington? In the likelihood that manufacturers will install boxes to transmit sensor information to them for study purposes, what are the privacy issues?

Nationally since last May, two cars with autonomous features — a 2015 Tesla Model S and a 2016 Tesla Model X — crashed while in autopilot mode with people in the drivers’ seats. On May 7, 2016, a 40-year-old Ohio man was killed when his Tesla S on autopilot ran into a semi tractor-trailer rig crossing the road in Florida, continuing to drive under the trailer and beyond. The man was the only person in that car.

The second crash took place on July 1, 2016, after a Michigan man put his Tesla X on autopilot on a Pennsylvania highway. The car hit a right guardrail, and then barreled across the road to hit a concrete median and flipped. The Michigan man and his passenger escaped serious injury.

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