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Federal, State Governments React to Eventual Arrival of Autonomous Cars

Autonomous cars are on the radar of the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Department of Transportation (DOT), as well as state legislators.

The Federal Automated Vehicles Policy sets out a proactive safety approach intended to bring life-saving technologies to the roads safely while providing innovators the space they need to develop new solutions. The policy is rooted in DOT’s view that automated vehicles hold enormous potential benefits for safety, mobility, and sustainability.

The primary focus of federal policy is on highly automated vehicles (HAVs), or those in which the vehicle can take full control of the driving task in at least some circumstances. Portions of the policy also apply to lower levels of automation, including some of the driver-assistance systems already being deployed by automakers today. The federal policy covers:

  • Vehicle Performance Guidance for Automated Vehicles: Guidance for manufacturers, developers, and other organizations outlines a 15-point “Safety Assessment” for the safe design, development, testing, and deployment of automated vehicles.
  • Model State Policy: Presents a clear distinction between Federal and State responsibilities for regulation of HAVs, and suggests recommended policy areas for states to consider with a goal of generating a consistent national framework for the testing and deployment of highly automated vehicles.
  • Current Regulatory Tools: Outlines DOT’s current regulatory tools that can be used to accelerate the safe development of HAVs, such as interpreting current rules to allow for greater flexibility in design and providing limited exemptions to allow for testing of nontraditional vehicle designs in a more timely fashion.
  • Modern Regulatory Tools: Identifies potential new regulatory tools and statutory authorities that may aid the safe and efficient deployment of new lifesaving technologies.

Current authorities and tools alone may be insufficient to ensure the safe introduction and full safety promise of new technologies, such as autonomous cars. This challenge requires DOT and NHTSA to examine whether the ways in which the agency has addressed safety for the last several decades should be expanded to realize the safety potential of automated vehicles over the decades to come.

States’ Responsibilities

Virtually all states have responded to support the eventual arrival of autonomous vehicles. Among the state bills on autonomous cars that have been enacted are:


Requires the Department of the California Highway Patrol to adopt safety standards and performance requirements to ensure the safe operation and testing of autonomous vehicles, as defined, on the public roads in this state. Permits autonomous vehicles to be operated or tested on the public roads in this state pending the adoption of safety standards and performance requirements that would be adopted under this bill.

Authorizes the Contra Costa Transportation Authority to conduct a pilot project for the testing of autonomous vehicles that are not equipped with a steering wheel, a brake pedal, an accelerator, or an operator inside the vehicle, if the testing is conducted only at specified locations and the autonomous vehicle operates at specified speeds.


Defines terms including “fully autonomous vehicle,” “automated driving system,” and “operator.” Requires the development of a pilot program for up to four municipalities for the testing of fully autonomous vehicles on public roads in those municipalities. Specifies the requirements for testing, including having an operator seated in the driver’s seat and providing proof of insurance of at least $5 million. Establishes a task force to study fully autonomous vehicles. The study must include an evaluation of NHTSA’s standards regarding state responsibility for regulating AVs, an evaluation of laws, legislation, and regulations in other states, recommendations on how Connecticut should legislate and regulate AVs, and an evaluation of the pilot program.


Defines “autonomous vehicle” and “autonomous technology.” Declares legislative intent to encourage the safe development, testing, and operation of motor vehicles with autonomous technology on public roads of the state and finds that the state does not prohibit or specifically regulate the testing or operation of autonomous technology in motor vehicles on public roads.

Authorizes a person who possesses a valid driver’s license to operate an autonomous vehicle, specifying that the person who causes the vehicle’s autonomous technology to engage is the operator. Authorizes the operation of autonomous vehicles by certain persons for testing purposes under certain conditions and requires an instrument of insurance, surety bond, or self-insurance prior to the testing of a vehicle. Directs the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to prepare a report recommending additional legislative or regulatory action that may be required for the safe testing and operation of vehicles equipped with autonomous technology, to be submitted no later than Feb. 12, 2014.

Permits operation of autonomous vehicles on public roads by individuals with a valid driver license. This bill eliminates the requirement that the vehicle operation is being done for testing purposes and removes a number of provisions related to vehicle operation for testing purposes. Eliminates the requirement that a driver be present in the vehicle. Requires autonomous vehicles meet applicable federal safety standards and regulations.

Defines autonomous technology and driver-assistive truck platooning technology. Requires a study on the use and safe operation of driver-assistive truck platooning technology and allows for a pilot project upon conclusion of the study.


Allows for autonomous vehicles under certain conditions. Allows operation without a person in the autonomous vehicle. Specifies that the requirement that commercial vehicles maintain a minimum following distance of 500 feet does not apply to vehicles in a platoon.

Allows for autonomous vehicles under certain conditions. Allows operation without a person in the autonomous vehicle.

Defines automated driving system. Allows for the creation of mobility research centers where automated technology can be tested. Provides immunity for automated technology manufacturers when modifications are made without the manufacturer's consent.

Exempts mechanics and repair shops from liability on fixing automated vehicles.

Defines “automated technology,” “automated vehicle,” “automated mode,” expressly permits testing of automated vehicles by certain parties under certain conditions, defines operator, addresses liability of the original manufacturer of a vehicle on which a third party has installed an automated system, directs state DOT with Secretary of State to submit report by Feb. 1, 2016.

Limits liability of vehicle manufacturer or upfitter for damages in a product liability suit resulting from modifications made by a third party to an automated vehicle or automated vehicle technology under certain circumstances; relates to automated mode conversions.


Prohibits the use of cell phones or other handheld wireless communications devices while driving in certain circumstances, and makes it a crime to text or read data on a cellular phone while driving. Permits use of such devices for persons in a legally operating autonomous vehicle. These persons are deemed not to be operating a motor vehicle for the purposes of this law.

Relates to autonomous vehicles. Requires an autonomous vehicle that is being tested on a highway to meet certain conditions relating or operated on a highway within the state, unless it meets certain conditions. Provides that the manufacturer of a vehicle that has been converted to be an autonomous vehicle by a third party is immune from liability for certain a human operator. Requires proof of insurance. Prohibits an autonomous vehicle from being registered in the state, or tested.

Defines terms including “driver-assistive platooning technology,” “fully autonomous vehicle,” and “automated driving system.” Allows the use of driver-assistive platooning technology on highways in the state. Preempts local regulation. Requires the reporting of any crashes to the department of motor vehicles within 10 days if the crash results in personal injury or property damage greater than $750. Allows a fine of up to $2,500 to be imposed for violations of laws and regulations relating to autonomous vehicles. Permits the operation of fully autonomous vehicles in the state without a human operator in the vehicle. Specifies that the original manufacturer is not liable for damages if a vehicle has been modified by an unauthorized third party.

Allows the DMV to adopt certain regulations relating to autonomous vehicles. Defines “driver,” for purposes of an autonomous vehicle, to be the person who causes the automated driving system to engage. Specifies that the following distance requirement does not apply to a vehicle using platooning technology. Imposes an excise tax on the connection of a passenger to a fully autonomous vehicle for the purpose of providing transportation services. Specifies requirements for autonomous vehicle network companies, including a permitting requirement, prohibitions on discrimination, and addressing accessibility. Permits the use of autonomous vehicles by motor carriers and taxi companies if certain requirements are met.


Allows a motor vehicle to be operated, or to be equipped with, an integrated electronic display visible to the operator while the motor vehicle's autonomous technology is engaged.

Redefines “autonomous technology” for purposes of preemption. Defines "driving mode" and "dynamic driving task."

Permits the operation of a platoon on streets and highways in the state after the person provides notification to the department of transportation and the department of safety.

ADS is automated driving system. Creates the “Automated Vehicles Act.” Defines a number of terms. Modifies laws related to unattended motor vehicles, child passenger restraint systems, seat belts, and crash reporting in order to address ADS-operated vehicles. Specifies that ADS-operated vehicles are exempt from licensing requirements. Permits ADS-operated vehicles on streets and highways in the state without a driver in the vehicle if it meets certain conditions. Preempts local regulation of ADS-operated vehicles. Specifies that the ADS shall be considered a driver for liability purposes when it is fully engaged and operated properly. Makes it a class A misdemeanor to operate a motor vehicle on public roads in the states without a human driver in the driver’s seat without meeting the requirements of this Act. Specifies that this Act only applies to vehicles in high or full automation mode.


Allows the use of a connected braking system in order to maintain the appropriate distance between vehicles. Specifies that “connected braking system” means a system by which the braking of one vehicle is electronically coordinated with the braking system of a following vehicle.

Defines a number of terms, including “automated driving system,” “automated motor vehicle,” “entire dynamic driving task,” and “human operator.” Preempts local regulation of automated motor vehicles and automated driving systems. Specifies that the owner of an automated driving system is the operator of the vehicle when the system is engaged and the system is considered licensed to operate the vehicle. Allows an automated motor vehicle to operate in the state regardless of whether a human operator is present in the vehicle, as long as certain requirements are met.

Washington D.C.

Defines “autonomous vehicle” as “a vehicle capable of navigating District roadways and interpreting traffic-control devices without a driver actively operating any of the vehicle’s control systems.” Requires a human driver “prepared to take control of the autonomous vehicle at any moment.” Restricts conversion to recent vehicles, and addresses liability of the original manufacturer of a converted vehicle.

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