States pursue rules on use of autonomous vehicles

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Wednesday, March 22, 2017

In recent years state legislatures have discussed, and some have adopted, rules on the use of autonomous vehicles. Vehicles that are intended to navigate their way through traffic without requiring someone to hold the steering wheel already are authorized for testing in certain states around the country.

Advocates say the autonomous technology could eliminate human-error accidents and potentially enable more efficient use of roadways. They add that self-driving cars communicate with one another, signal traffic problems ahead, and adjust to the optimal speed to avoid creating a backup.

Critics say if traffic does improve via the technology, more vehicles are likely to use the roads, and congestion problems would return.

Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia have already adopted rules related to the use of autonomous vehicles through state law, regulation or executive order. The rules adopted permit research and testing of the vehicles on public roads, after certain requirements are met.

Growth of the technology’s use spurred the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration a year ago to set model state policy on autonomous vehicles. At the state level, legislators from coast to coast are taking action on use of the technology.
In 2016, 20 states considered legislation covering autonomous vehicles. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the total is up from six states in 2012.

The uptrend is not expected to slow anytime soon. Already this year lawmakers in at least 27 states have brought up for consideration bills that cover autonomous vehicles. Below are some notable efforts followed by Land Line.

Multiple bills introduced at the California statehouse address road-worthiness concerns for the technology.

Following Uber Technologies’ illegal debut of 16 self-driving vehicles in the state one month ago, Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, introduced a bill to increase penalties on companies that do not obtain permits.

“The pursuit of innovation does not include a license put innocent lives at risk,” Ting said in a released statement.

AB87 would require the California Department of Motor Vehicles to revoke the vehicle registration of any autonomous vehicle operating without first receiving a permit. Companies in violation could face fines up to $25,000 per vehicle per day, among other punishments.

A separate bill would require an accident involving an autonomous vehicle that results in serious injury or death to be reported to the DMV within 24 hours. AB623 would require the agency to suspend the operating license for that vehicle manufacturer for five days while an investigation is conducted.

One year after becoming the first state to legalize fully autonomous vehicles – without a driver behind the wheel – under certain circumstances, two Florida bills would go one step further.

HB725 and SB1066 would remove a requirement that the person operating an autonomous vehicle possess a valid driver’s license. Instead, the vehicle itself would be considered the licensed entity.

Colorado, Nebraska, New Jersey, Texas and West Virginia bills would welcome self-driving vehicles into their states.

The Colorado bill, SB213, would allow driverless vehicles if they meet state and federal driving safety laws. If they do not, operators must coordinate tests with the Colorado DOT and State Patrol.

Local governments would also be prohibited from passing ordinances to restrict use.

“This is a proactive solution that protects drivers and says Colorado is open for business,” stated Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted to advance the bill to the chamber floor.

The Nebraska bill, LB627, would create provisions allowing for autonomous vehicles. In addition, the state Department of Motor Vehicles is setting up a committee to study the issue.

One New Jersey bill, A3745, would authorize autonomous vehicles to access the state’s roadways but only if a driver is behind the wheel.

A similar effort is underway in West Virginia.

In Texas, one bill would lay the foundation for driving autonomous vehicles in the state. HB3475 would require vehicles to be able to operate in compliance with state traffic laws.

Owners or operators of self-driving vehicles would also be required to obtain a surety bond or insurance worth $10 million.

Autonomous rules are already in place in Massachusetts. One House bill would take the next step to raise revenue for the state via driverless vehicles.

Democratic Sens. Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield and Jason Lewis of Winchester are behind a bill to set a mileage-based tax on their use. H1829 would also permit large municipalities to ban the vehicles altogether.

Legislation in Tennessee would authorize driverless vehicles, including large trucks, without a driver behind the wheel in certain situations.

HB1131/SB1072 would require the person operating an autonomous vehicle to notify the Department of Safety about any accidents required to be reported under state law.

A similar effort, HB381/SB151, stipulates the type of companies that can perform self-driving tests in the state. The effort does not include permission to operate an autonomous vehicle without a person behind the wheel.

The bills are in their respective chambers’ transportation committees.

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