While many established automakers and technology companies are itching to win the autonomous vehicle race, legislators are simply trying to keep up. Innovation often outpaces laws, and the automobile industry is no exception. For example, each state sets its own traffic laws (think speed limits), generally without the involvement of the federal government. As for driverless car laws by state vs. nationwide, we’re still figuring it all out.
Just imagine the not-too-distant-future when fully autonomous vehicles are available at your local dealership. You live in a state which allows driverless vehicles to share the road with human-driven vehicles and your state has clear laws for driving and auto insurance and so on. But the state next door does not. The reality of this situation could mean that drivers of fully autonomous vehicles will have to limit their driving to states that permit it, which would obviously create a lot of complication for automakers and tech companies, legislators and law enforcement, and the auto insurance industry.
So, we all understandably ask, where do we as a country stand on the matter of autonomous vehicle rules and regulations?
Driverless Vehicle Legislation State-By-State
Driverless technology is becoming more and more of a reality with the potential to affect drivers on public roads. Here’s where every state currently stands on the adoption of laws regulating their use:
|State||Legislation Related to Driverless Cars Passed||State Insurance Requirements for Driverless Cars Passed||Driverless Cars in Use on Public Roads (Hint: Nope, not yet)|
* Governor issued executive orders related to autonomous vehicles
Who Is Liable for a Driverless Car’s Actions?
Liability insurance protects the other driver (and his/her property) in the event of a collision you cause. Currently every state in the nation except New Hampshire requires a minimum level of liability coverage for all licensed drivers.
Soon, New Jersey might become the third state in the union – following Florida and Nevada – to require driverless vehicles to carry liability insurance. What’s different here? The law here applies to the machines – the actual cars themselves and not the drivers. (Incidentally, drivers, even of autonomous vehicles, still need liability insurance for themselves in these states).
Presently, in the 48 states plus Washington D.C. which have not set specific laws for autonomous vehicles, traffic law doesn’t explicitly cover who (or what) would be responsible if a fully driverless car hit another car. It’s generally understood that absent other laws, the manufacturer of the autonomous vehicle would be held responsible (as we’ve seen with Tesla), but how it’s enforced is neither standardized nor entirely clear.
Though two New Jersey Assembly members have sponsored bills related to autonomous vehicles and liability insurance, no date has been set for a hearing on them, writes Property Casualty 360. A co-sponsor of the bill said the legislation is needed to make it clear whether the owner of a vehicle who isn’t operating it (but is inside it) should be responsible in the event that the car causes a wreck. It’s a tough question, one that legislators, carmakers, and even philosophers continue to wrestle.
How Do Automakers and Tech Companies Impact Driverless Vehicle Legislation?
Automakers have deep ties in Washington, as do car dealerships. Lobbyists for both are the reason we can’t, for example, buy new cars online (only official dealerships can sell new cars in the U.S.). But the race for autonomous vehicles has meant that automakers are competing with companies that are first and foremost technology providers, like Uber, Google, and Apple.
A new series of bills currently under review in several states demonstrate that traditional automakers won’t give up ground easily. Several states are now considering legislation that would prevent technology companies from testing autonomous vehicles, Automotive News reports. In Michigan, General Motors (which is developing their own driverless technology) reportedly had input on the legislation, often referred to as Safe Autonomous Vehicles Act (or SAVe Act), which would only allow companies building autonomous vehicles to test them. In this scenario, companies like Uber (which is only developing technology and not building actual cars) would not be permitted to test their technology in vehicles.
Bills like these don’t have universal support from tech companies or even from all automakers, reports Automotive News. Limiting who can test driverless tech will limit competition and likely innovation, too, opponents argue.
For now, Uber and Google and other technology-focused companies have successfully swayed lawmakers in Michigan to continue to allow them to test their technology in the state, but that could still change, and several other states are still considering similar legislation. California, for example, is a major hub of autonomous technology development and currently allows 22 companies to test driverless vehicles technology in the state. Fewer than half of those companies are automakers.
And though it’s true that the federal government doesn’t often legislate traffic law, it can. Volvo, Toyota, General Motors, and ride-hailing company Lyft recently asked the federal government to override conflicting state laws regarding the testing and use of autonomous vehicles, writes Hybrid Cars. They argue that the federal government has constitutional authority to protect public safety and allow innovation to continue.
Would you prefer the federal government step in to unify laws about driverless vehicles across the U.S., or do you think the matter should be left to each state? What would make you feel most safe?