Eight states enact rules on using autonomous vehicles

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 8/17/2017

State legislatures continue to pursue, and enact, new 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 various states around the country.

Autonomous vehicles are grouped into six classes of automation. As adopted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the six levels range from no automation to full automation (Levels 0 to 5). Specifically, levels 0 to 3 involve some degree of human control over the vehicle’s operation. Levels 4 and 5 do not require a human driver and are considered “high automation” and “full automation,” respectively.

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. They also have concerns about safety issues that may arise between the interaction of human and automated drivers on the road.

About half of all states have adopted rules related to the use of autonomous vehicles through state law, regulation or executive order. The rules that have been 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.

In recent weeks, however, a U.S. House panel took steps to discourage some state involvement in the process. The House Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection backed a proposal that includes a provision to bar states from setting driverless car performance standards.

In most circumstances states would maintain authority to address concerns about registration, licensing, liability, driver education, insurance, safety inspections and traffic laws.

As talks continue at the federal level, state legislators from coast to coast are continuing to act on use of the technology.
Since the first of this year, legislatures in at least 30 states have spent time discussing bills that cover autonomous vehicles. Below are some notable efforts followed by Land Line.

New laws in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee focus on who must be behind the wheel of driverless cars.

Fresh on the heels of being designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation as a “proving ground pilot site” for the testing of automated vehicle technologies, Carolina lawmakers adopted a rule that specifies operators of such vehicles would not be required to have a license. Another provision in the new law makes the vehicle’s registered owner responsible for moving violations on state roadways.

HB469 takes effect on Dec. 1.

The Tennessee law is described as a “comprehensive” step to prepare the state for the use of driverless vehicles. In addition to the provision that no longer requires a licensed driver to be at the wheel, the new rule goes one step further to permit testing without a human behind the wheel.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order in June authorizing driverless test drives on state roads. He extolled the technology’s “transformational societal benefits” for his decision to aid additional testing.

A new law in Connecticut creates a pilot program in Stamford and three other cities to test fully autonomous vehicles. A task force also will be established to study affected vehicles and the legal complexities posed by the new technology.

Gov. Dan Malloy endorsed the changes because he said it will put the state at the “forefront of this innovative, burgeoning industry.”

“Autonomous vehicles are already being tested in several states throughout the country, and we cannot allow our state to be outpaced as this technology grows,” Malloy said.

In an effort to become a player in autonomous vehicle use, North Dakota lawmakers have approved conducting a study of the technology’s regulations before moving forward with new rules.

Colorado and Texas also have new laws to welcome self-driving vehicles into their states.

The Colorado law allows 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 also are prohibited from passing ordinances to restrict use.

Effective Sept. 1, Texas law will include a framework for self-driving cars in the state. Until now, state law has not addressed the issue.

Among the provisions in the new law is permission to test fully autonomous cars without a driver inside the vehicle. Manufacturers are also responsible for any broken traffic laws or vehicle wrecks.

“Automotive technology is advancing at a rapid pace, and we need to be prepared for it,” stated Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills.

The state is included on the U.S. DOT list of locations designated as a “proving ground pilot site.”

Still active at statehouses in California, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are bills that address use of autonomous vehicles.

A bill in the California Senate would require an accident involving an autonomous vehicle that results in serious injury or death to be reported to the DMV within 10 days. The Assembly-approved bill would require a collision report prepared by law enforcement.

AB623 is in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The New Jersey legislation would authorize the testing of autonomous vehicles on roadways but only if an appropriately licensed driver is behind the wheel. S3225 is in the Senate Transportation Committee.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Jim Marshall, R-Big Beaver, describes his bill as addressing “key issues including safety, insurance, accident reporting, registration, and titling, without needlessly restricting testing and deployment of vehicles with fully self-driving features.”

Municipalities would also be prohibited from banning driverless vehicles.

HB1637 is in the House Transportation Committee.

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