States With En­acted Au­ton­o­mous Ve­hi­cle Leg­is­la­tion ↘

Automobile - - Progress -

Driver and Car Voltron

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment gen­er­ally sets reg­u­la­tions such as man­dat­ing safety equip­ment and test­ing crash­wor­thi­ness of new ve­hi­cles while states man­age af­ter­sale rules re­gard­ing reg­is­tra­tion, li­cens­ing, and safety in­spec­tion.

“The real is­sue with au­ton­o­mous driv­ing is you’re com­bin­ing the driver and the car,” says Jim McPher­son, a San Fran­cisco-based at­tor­ney who has ex­ten­sively stud­ied self-driv­ing reg­u­la­tions and is the founder and prin­ci­pal of

While the feds have lagged in set­ting AV reg­u­la­tions, sev­eral states have ac­cel­er­ated test­ing and de­ploy­ment of the tech­nol­ogy on pub­lic roads, though any fed­eral law will ul­ti­mately su­per­sede state statutes. Ne­vada was the first state to le­gal­ize the op­er­a­tion of au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles in 2011, and Florida fol­lowed later the same year. To­day, 22 states and Wash­ing­ton D.C. have passed leg­is­la­tion, and gov­er­nors in 10 states have is­sued ex­ec­u­tive or­ders reg­u­lat­ing AVs.

Google’s home state of Cal­i­for­nia, a hub of AV tech­nol­ogy, was one of the ear­li­est to en­act reg­u­la­tions. The tech giant re­garded the state’s orig­i­nal law passed in 2012 as too re­stric­tive be­cause it called for, among other things, a hu­man driver to al­ways be be­hind the wheel and, later, ve­hi­cles to have a steer­ing wheel and ped­als. “Cal­i­for­nia has a very re­stric­tive ap­proach to the de­ploy­ment of AVs and the in­for­ma­tion they re­quire,” says Grayson Brulte, co-founder and pres­i­dent of the con­sult­ing firm Brulte & Com­pany and co-chair of the Bev­erly Hills, Cal­i­for­nia-based Mayor’s Au­ton­o­mous Ve­hi­cle Task Force.

“Cal­i­for­nia re­quires an AV per­mit, whereas states like Florida and Ari­zona do not,” Brulte adds. Google and oth­ers also took is­sue with Cal­i­for­nia’s re­quire­ment that AV com­pa­nies re­port all “dis­en­gage­ments” while test­ing, in­ci­dents in which a hu­man had to take over, while Ari­zona and Florida don’t. This spring, new reg­u­la­tions went into ef­fect in Cal­i­for­nia that, among other things, al­low an AV to op­er­ate with­out a per­son inside if re­mote op­er­a­tion is pro­vided as a backup.

“They had no choice,” Brulte says of Cal­i­for­nia re­lax­ing its AV reg­u­la­tions. “Com­pa­nies were mov­ing large de­ploy­ments of AVs out of the state. If you com­pare the dis­en­gage­ment re­ports from 2015 to 2017, you see a mas­sive drop in num­ber of miles driven in the state.”

States Seize Op­por­tu­nity

Cal­i­for­nia, Ari­zona, and Florida—what Brulte calls the “big three” of AV test­ing—and sev­eral other states are vy­ing to be­come a des­ti­na­tion for self-driv­ing de­vel­op­ment pro­grams and to ben­e­fit from the lo­cal eco­nomic boost they bring. In 2015 Ari­zona Gov­er­nor Doug Ducey signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der di­rect­ing var­i­ous agen­cies to “un­der­take any nec­es­sary steps to sup­port the test­ing and op­er­a­tion of self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles on pub­lic roads” in the state, while Florida ex­panded its reg­u­la­tion in 2016 to al­low the op­er­a­tion of AVs with­out a per­son in the ve­hi­cle.

With its auto in­dus­try prow­ess and pride, Michi­gan has be­come a cham­pion of self-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy, build­ing two ded­i­cated test fa­cil­i­ties and pass­ing a law in 2016 that al­lows AVs to op­er­ate with­out any­one inside. In Vir­ginia, an­other state with lib­eral AV laws, for­mer Gov­er­nor Terry McAuliffe devoted the

re­main­der of his term to turn­ing the state into “the cap­i­tal of au­to­mated ve­hi­cles.”

“Every­one is jump­ing on the band­wagon,” Brulte says. “By al­low­ing the test­ing and de­ploy­ing of AVs, they’re putting the ground­work in place so that when AV ser­vices are up and run­ning, they’ll be two or three steps ahead.”

In ad­di­tion to eco­nomic in­cen­tives, Florida State Sen­a­tor Jeff Bran­des of St. Peters­burg sees test­ing and de­ploy­ing the tech­nol­ogy as a tool to pre­vent fur­ther traf­fic grid­lock.

“We have 20 mil­lion res­i­dents and 116 mil­lion tourists each year and what many would con­sider an ane­mic pub­lic trans­porta­tion sys­tem,” Bran­des says. “We’re hav­ing traf­fic chal­lenges, and here’s a tech­nol­ogy that wasn’t avail­able 10 years ago that lets us leapfrog light rail.”

Feds Flail Away

While states are busy fast-track­ing AV reg­u­la­tion, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is stuck in the slow lane. Granted, the feds tra­di­tion­ally move at a slower pace, and changes in the ex­ec­u­tive branch—and a lack of lead­er­ship at the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion (NHTSA)—haven’t helped.

Af­ter years of AV de­vel­op­ers lob­by­ing for fed­eral leg­is­la­tion to avoid a patch­work of state laws, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion laid pol­icy ground­work in Jan­uary 2016 with a se­ries of vol­un­tary AV guide­lines, in­clud­ing sub­mit­ting test­ing and de­ploy­ment plans to the De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion (DOT). Af­ter power changed hands in D.C., the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and Congress re­mained idle on AV pol­icy, ex­cept for a burst of mo­men­tum last fall that has since stalled.

In Septem­ber 2017, Sec­re­tary of Trans­porta­tion Elaine Chao un­veiled an up­dated ver­sion of the orig­i­nal

fed­eral AV guide­lines that re­moved some re­stric­tions of the Obama-era poli­cies. One sig­nif­i­cant change in­cluded telling AV de­vel­op­ers they “do not need to wait to test or de­ploy their” tech­nol­ogy on pub­lic roads.

Be­sides a few pub­lic state­ments by Chao, re­quests for com­ments from stake­hold­ers, and an AV Sum­mit in March, there’s largely been ra­dio si­lence on the sub­ject from the DOT. “They’re work­ing on ver­sion 3.0 of the guide­lines,” notes David Strick­land, the for­mer NHTSA ad­min­is­tra­tor dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion who is now di­rec­tor of the Self-Driv­ing Coali­tion for Safer Streets trade or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion waited more than a year be­fore nam­ing an NHTSA ad­min­is­tra­tor to head the agency tasked with in­sti­tut­ing fed­eral AV pol­icy. Heidi King, who was ap­pointed NHTSA deputy ad­min­is­tra­tor in Septem­ber, was nom­i­nated in April to fill the top po­si­tion, although Strick­land says leav­ing the lead­er­ship job un­filled for so long “makes things more dif­fi­cult” in ad­vanc­ing AV pol­icy.

Also in Septem­ber, the U.S. House unan­i­mously passed the SELF DRIVE Act, and later the same month the AV START Act was in­tro­duced in the Sen­ate. At the time, there was hope the Sen­ate bill would pass quickly and the bills would be rec­on­ciled and signed into law. But the AV START Act hit Capi­tol Hill grid­lock af­ter sev­eral sen­a­tors blocked its pas­sage, cit­ing con­cerns about safety and job im­pact and lob­by­ing by con­sumer groups and the truck­ing in­dus­try. With more press­ing is­sues be­fore Congress, Strick­land doesn’t think the Sen­ate “is at a point where the peo­ple who are op­posed to the AV START Act are will­ing to re­lent.”

He added, “They prob­a­bly haven’t changed their minds fol­low­ing the Uber [in­ci­dent] in Ari­zona” in March that killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she walked her bike across the road and was hit by one of the ride-hail­ing com­pany’s self-driv­ing Volvos. Fol­low­ing the crash, Uber, Toy­ota, Nvidia, and oth­ers tem­po­rar­ily put the brakes on AV test­ing in Ari­zona and other states, and Gov­er­nor Ducey pulled Uber’s test­ing per­mit in the state. The in­ci­dent meant pol­i­cy­mak­ers and a pub­lic al­ready wary of self-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy were fur­ther spooked and are not likely to shift gears on AV tech­nol­ogy any time soon.

Reg­u­la­tion Round Robin

De­spite the Uber crash, sev­eral states are putting the pedal to the metal on AV test­ing—even if there isn’t a driver to push it or even a pedal at all. And although there’s gen­eral con­sen­sus among the self-driv­ing car cognoscenti that fed­eral reg­u­la­tion is needed to keep au­ton­o­mous tech on track, some feel that let­ting states hash out pol­icy could be a bet­ter path for­ward.

“The ar­gu­ment is that states need to get out of the way,” McPher­son says. “The counter to that is there are states that have al­ready rolled out reg­u­la­tions, and we should let that play out and see whether de­vel­op­ers find them rea­son­able.” Adds Bran­des: “I would pre­fer the states lead and the feds be a late adopter.”

But Strick­land is con­cerned that if AV reg­u­la­tion is left to states, it would evolve “in a Balka­nized en­vi­ron­ment and take a lot longer and be much more ex­pen­sive. Fed­eral reg­u­la­tion cre­ates a level play­ing field and at­tains the ben­e­fits of AV tech­nol­ogy in an ef­fi­cient way with the high­est level of safety.”

McPher­son con­tends that states al­ready over­see as­pects of driver and ve­hi­cle safety test­ing and that these could be adapted to AVs. “You could have a min­i­mum sight dis­tance for AV sen­sors, just like you do for driv­ers,” he adds.

Strick­land main­tains that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is bet­ter equipped to han­dle AV cer­ti­fi­ca­tion as well as crash in­ves­ti­ga­tion and data col­lec­tion to en­sure safety and con­sis­tency. “There’s no state that has the ca­pac­ity to test a ve­hi­cle to the de­gree of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment,” he says. “States would have to build these pro­cesses from the ground up and frankly don’t have the re­sources to take that on. I don’t think ask­ing states to be mini fed­eral mo­tor ve­hi­cle safety reg­u­la­tors is fea­si­ble.”

Bran­des con­curs with Strick­land that over­see­ing crash in­ves­ti­ga­tion and data col­lec­tion should be left to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. “States are ill pre­pared to

do the type of deep-dive in­ves­ti­ga­tion that would be re­quired,” he says.

But he also wants states to re­tain rights to over­see AVs on lo­cal roads. “Early on, AVs will op­er­ate in a spe­cific ge­ofenced area,” he says. “You have to be­lieve that those will be state-led, with some lo­cal dis­cre­tion as well.”

In what McPher­son views as an un­prece­dented move in mo­tor ve­hi­cle leg­is­la­tion, the AV START Act would, if passed, pre-empt state laws re­gard­ing AVs. “The fed­eral gov­ern­ment could tell states, ‘While you only al­low cer­tain qual­i­fied driv­ers on your streets, now you have to al­low ro­bot cars that drive on their own or drive re­motely.’ And there’s noth­ing states can do about it.”

You Will Be As­sim­i­lated

Like when cars first took to pub­lic roads—and some peo­ple sought to ban the new­fan­gled con­trap­tions for safety’s sake—politi­cians will even­tu­ally de­cide how to as­sim­i­late AVs into ex­ist­ing laws. “Once self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles can travel across state lines, that will change ev­ery­thing,” Brulte says, and any fed­eral laws will, of course, pre-empt most state reg­u­la­tions. But re­gard­less of whether states, feds, or a com­bi­na­tion of the two ul­ti­mately set rules for AVs, chances are you’ll see robocars legally rid­ing next to you on the road soon. AM





Ford is test­ing self­driv­ing tech­nol­ogy in Florida. A full fleet of Chevro­let Bolts is in pro­duc­tion with an aim to­ward au­ton­omy. GM plans to use the Bolt as its first car with­out a steer­ing wheel or ped­als. At right, a self-driv­ing Uber Volvo sim­i­lar to the one in­volved in a fa­tal crash in March.






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