Policy Analysis | September 2016

Autonomous Vehicle Legislation and Trends

Nick Bowman


Autonomous vehicles have the potential to change all aspects of mobility – from driver safety and insurance liability to car ownership and how Americans commute – and could disrupt both public and private transportation as we know it.

As Google, Uber, Tesla, the automobile industry and other organizations continue to make rapid technological advances in driverless cars, it is vital that federal, state and local governments establish policies, laws and regulations that account for this disruptive technology. Of utmost importance is finding a balance between guarding public safety while regulating insurance/liability and simultaneously encouraging investment in research and development of driverless vehicles and their implementation and integration into our transportation system.

Fully automated vehicles (AVs), also referred to as driverless cars or self-driving cars, are capable of sensing their environment and navigating roads without human input. They rely on technologies like GPS, Lidar and radar to read their surroundings and make intelligent decisions about the vehicle’s direction and speed and interaction with other road users, including cyclists and pedestrians.1

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has devised a classification system for autonomous vehicles. The details on this system are: 2

(Level 0)
The driver is in complete and sole control of the primary vehicle controls – brake, steering, throttle, and motive power – at all times.
Function-specific Automation
(Level 1)
Automation at this level involves one or more specific control functions. Examples include electronic stability control or pre-charged brakes, where the vehicle automatically assists with braking to enable the driver to regain control of the vehicle or stop faster than possible by acting alone.
Combined Function Automation
(Level 2)
This level involves automation of at least two primary control functions designed to work in unison to relieve the driver of control of those functions. An example of combined functions enabling a Level 2 system is adaptive cruise control in combination with lane centering.
Limited Self-driving Automation
(Level 3)
Vehicles at this level of automation enable the driver to cede full control of all safety-critical functions under certain traffic or environmental conditions and, in those conditions, to rely heavily on the vehicle to monitor for changes in those conditions requiring transition back to driver control. The driver is expected to be available for occasional control, but with sufficiently comfortable transition time. The Google car is an example of limited self-driving automation.
Full Self-driving Automation
(Level 4)
The vehicle is designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. Such a design anticipates that the driver will provide destination or navigation input, but is not expected to be available for control at any time during the trip. This includes both occupied and unoccupied vehicles.
Driverless Vehicle Impacts

The potential impact of driverless vehicles is vast, with both positive and negative implications. The extent of these impacts largely will be driven by government policies.

Potential positive impacts include: 3

Improved public safety
This is the largest positive impact, with the potential elimination of 90 percent of automobile accidents that are caused by human error.
Improved mobility for the elderly, disabled and youth
A survey found that nearly 15 million people nationwide, 6 million of whom are disabled, have difficulties getting the transportation they need. Moreover, by 2030, one in five Americans will be over 65 years old..
Improved traffic circulation
Assuming a 90 percent market share of driverless (mostly shared) vehicles, freeway congestion could be reduced by 60 percent. Also, vehicles cruising the street looking for parking spots account for 30 percent of current city traffic. That could potentially be eliminated with shared driverless vehicles.
Reduced need for parking
In one study, no matter which scenario was tested, self-driving fleets completely removed the need for on-street parking due to the level of increased ride sharing and vehicle sharing. Additionally, up to 80 percent of off-street parking could be removed, generating new opportunities for alternative uses of this space.
Improved personal mobility options and reduced personal mobility costs
Each new self-driving taxi added to the fleet eliminates the need for about 10 privately owned cars. Essentially, people’s mobility options will be increased substantially, so the need to own a private vehicle will be less necessary (at least in most urban and suburban areas). Among other opportunities, driverless cars could provide first/last mile transit solutions.
Reduced emissions
A self-driving, electric taxi in 2030 would produce 90 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) than a 2014 gasoline-powered privately owned vehicle, and 63 percent to 82 percent fewer GHG emissions than a 2030 privately owned vehicle with a hybrid engine.
Increased road capacity and throughput
The ability to constantly monitor surrounding traffic and respond with finely tuned braking and acceleration adjustments should enable autonomous vehicles to travel safely at higher speeds and with reduced headway (space) between each vehicle. Research indicates that the platooning of autonomous vehicles could increase lane capacity (vehicles per lane per hour) by up to 500 percent.

Potential negative impacts include: 3

Increased vehicle miles travelled (VMT)
One study showed that VMT per driverless vehicle is 20 percent higher than non-driverless vehicles in a society with minimal vehicle and ride sharing. Additional VMT increases may be realized from induced demand as travel costs and congestion fall.
Increased urban sprawl
Regardless of the mode of available transit, people tend to live an average of 25-30 minutes from where they work. And it is predicted that driverless vehicles could travel up to 120 miles per hour on major highways. For this reason, and the ability of people to engage in activities in their vehicles other than driving, it is likely that people will be willing to live even farther from where they work, which could result in reduced accessibility to public services, increased infrastructure requirements, reduced farmland and reduced natural land.
Job loss
Nationally, 915,000 people are employed in motor vehicle and parts manufacturing. Additionally, truck, bus, delivery, and taxi drivers account for nearly 6 million jobs. These jobs, and others, potentially could be impacted by vehicles that do not need drivers. However, this likely would happen gradually, and it is anticipated that many new jobs also would be created with the introduction of autonomous vehicles.
How other industries will be impacted by autonomous cars 4
Car parts suppliers
While vehicles still will require hardware for the vehicles’ frames, it’s likely that cars largely will be technology-driven. Bumpers will have sensors to minimize damage, windows will have active windows displays, car entry will occur via biometric vehicle access, etc.
Car dealerships
Dealerships may continue to operate in their current state or their sales may drop significantly due to an increase in vehicle sharing and reduced private vehicle ownership.
Car repair shops
Individuals running these facilities will likely need entirely different, technology-based skill sets to be able to continue operating.
Driving professions
Drivers in the trucking industry, taxi services, limousine services, and public transportation will not have jobs when their industries transition to driverless vehicles.
‘Brick and mortar stores’
While people’s product needs remain, their approach to accessing these goods will continue to change drastically. Driverless cars may ‘fetch’ these goods for customers or deliver goods to customers’ homes (similar to Amazon’s model), which means storefronts will need to change their approach to sales: reduce their store’s footprint, add more ‘pick-up and drop-off’ locations, and incorporate loading/unloading and delivery into their business model. Stores may even consider paying to bring shoppers to their stores.
Autonomous vehicles will be ‘smart’ and constantly collect information that advertisers will be able to incorporate into their strategies.
The insurance industry will have a major disruption as it navigates liability associated with driverless cars.
Data analysis
Driverless cars will greatly increase the amount of data available, which has significant implications for society. Cyber security, data protection (privacy), and data mining will continue to be vital, growing fields.
Driverless Vehicles Time Line

Industry experts and stakeholders have widely varying opinions on when driverless vehicles will be available. Automakers and technology developers estimate that driverless vehicle technology will be publicly available in 2018-2020; however, there are other factors that will influence the driverless vehicle time line, including consumer acceptance and adoption, government regulation, privacy and security regulations and insurance industry adjustments.

Traditional automakers like Mercedes and Toyota already make vehicles equipped with systems that keep cars within their lanes, apply brakes when necessary or park themselves. Automakers plan to gradually automate more functions of driving until, perhaps by 2025, some cars will be fully capable of driving themselves.

On the other hand, Google, Alibaba, Baidu and other technology companies are aggressively working on their own driverless vehicles, and could leapfrog the car industry in bringing them to market. Generally, however, researchers believe that driverless vehicles will not be ubiquitous on roadways until 2025 - 2040 (and some believe even later). 5

Government’s Current Role in Driverless Vehicles

Currently, the government’s role in the burgeoning driverless vehicle industry is limited. This section describes the government’s role as of January 2016 at the federal, state and local levels in the United States.

Federal Government Role

At the federal level, NHTSA is supporting some initial research in automated vehicles, human interactions with automated vehicles, and performance and safety requirements. The organization also has established a classification system for various levels of vehicle automation. NHTSA issued policy guidance with recommendations (not requirements) for states that have authorized the operation of self-driving vehicles, including how to ensure safe operation of the cars throughout the testing phase. Many of the federal government’s efforts have been focused on funding research and policy development on connected vehicles, including getting pilot programs off the ground.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently issued long-awaited guidance delineating responsibilities of the federal and state governments for self-driving cars. While strong safety oversight will be a hallmark of policies governing testing and deployment, the federal government recognizes the potential of these vehicles for saving time, money and lives. Response to the guidance largely has been positive and a number of states appear poised to move quickly on new autonomous vehicle legislation in the days and months ahead. 6

State Government Role

At the state level, a wide variety of laws and regulations have been enacted or implemented. As of January 2016, California, Michigan, Florida, Nevada, Tennessee and Washington D.C. have enacted legislation allowing limited driverless vehicle testing on public roadways. Related legislation is pending in many other states. The statutory language varies among the states and the focus of legislation varies among these topics:

“Drivers” (people sitting behind the steering wheel) need to be pre-approved and have proof of training by the manufacturer;
“Drivers” also must have the ability to take over control of the car (via a steering wheel, gas pedal, and brake pedal, at a minimum) at any time;
Manufacturers are required to maintain some level of insurance coverage;
Manufacturers need to show that their driverless vehicles have been tested and can safely comply with all applicable traffic laws;
Driverless vehicles must store sensor data for a pre-established amount of time; and
Some reporting (of incidents, at a minimum) is required.

Currently, there is little consistency or precedent on a safety and licensing framework among the existing and emerging legislation. Some states have opted against the creation of new regulations for driverless vehicle testing or operation because of concern that previous laws have stunted research in those states that passed testing regulations.

Enacted and Proposed Legislation Regarding Autonomous Vehicles at the State Level
State Statute Status
Alabama AL S 178 (2016) Proposed in 2016
California CA SB 1298 (2012) Enacted
California CA AB 1592 (2016) Proposed in 2016
California CA AB 2682 (2016) Proposed in 2016
California CA AB 2866 (2016) Proposed in 2016
California CA SB 431 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Connecticut CT HB 6344 (2015) Proposed in 2015
Florida FL HB 1207 (2012) Enacted
Florida FL HB 599 (2012) Enacted
Florida FL HB 7027 (2016) Enacted
Florida FL HB 7061 (2016) Enacted
Georgia GA SB 113 (2015) Proposed in 2015
Georgia GA SB 113 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Hawaii HI HB 632 (2015) Proposed in 2015
Hawaii HI HB 1458 (2015) Proposed in 2015
Hawaii HI HB 2687 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Hawaii HI SB 630 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Idaho ID SB 1108 (2015) Proposed in 2015
Illinois IL HB 3136 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Louisiana LA HB 1143 (2016) Enacted
Maryland MD HB 172 (2015) Proposed in 2015
Maryland MD SB 778 (2015) Proposed in 2015
Maryland MD HB 8 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Maryland MD SB 126 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Massachusetts MA HB 2977 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Massachusetts MA HB 4321 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Massachusetts MA SB 1841 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Michigan MI SB 169 (2013) Enacted
Michigan MI SB 663 (2013) Enacted
Michigan MI SB 927 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Michigan MI SB 928 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Michigan MI SB 995 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Michigan MI SB 996 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Michigan MI SB 997 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Michigan MI SB 998 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Minnesota MN HB 3325 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Minnesota MN SB 2659 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Mississippi MS SB 2672 (2015) Proposed in 2015
Missouri MO HB 924 (2015) Proposed in 2015
Nevada NV AB 511 (2011) Enacted
Nevada NV SB 140 (2011) Enacted
Nevada NV SB 313 (2013) Enacted
New Jersey NJ AB 554 (2016) Proposed in 2016
New Jersey NJ AB 851 (2016) Proposed in 2016
New Jersey NJ AB 3745 (2016) Proposed in 2016
New Jersey NJ SB 343 (2016) Proposed in 2016
New York NY AB 10586 (2016) Proposed in 2016
New York NY SB 7879 (2016) Proposed in 2016
North Carolina NC HB 782 (2015) Proposed in 2015
North Dakota ND HB 1065 (2015) Enacted
Oregon OR SB 620 (2015) Proposed in 2015
Pennsylvania PA HB 2203 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Pennsylvania PA SB 1268 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Rhode Island RI SB 2514 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Tennessee TN SB 598 (2015) Enacted
Tennessee TN SB 2333 (2016) Enacted
Tennessee TN SB 1561 (2016) Enacted
Tennessee TN HB 616 (2015) Proposed in 2015
Tennessee TN HB 1564 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Tennessee TN HB 2173 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Texas TX HB 933 (2015) Proposed in 2015
Texas TX SB 1167 (2015) Proposed in 2015
Texas TX HB 3690 (2015) Proposed in 2015
Utah UT HB 280 (2016) Enacted
Virginia VA HB 1372 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Washington WA HB 2106 (2016) Proposed in 2016
Washington, D.C. 2012 DC B 19-0931 Enacted
Local Government Role

Local government involvement in the advancement of driverless vehicles is minimal. A few cities are making the news as driverless vehicles are being tested on their streets (notably Mountain View, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania); however, the cities are not necessarily investing in the technology or actively forming partnerships with the technology developers. 7

Further Reading

For additional information, the following excerpted news articles provide further resources:

State Laws on Autonomous Vehicles
“As of August 2016, seven states and the District of Columbia have enacted autonomous vehicle legislation. Another state has an executive order on the books.” The Council of State Governments
As U.S. Investigates Fatal Tesla Crash, Company Defends Autopilot System
“Even as federal safety officials step up their investigation of the fatal crash of a driver operating a Tesla car with its Autopilot system engaged, the company continues to defend the self-driving technology as safe when properly used.” The New York Times. 8
Software is The Last Obstacle to Fully Autonomous Vehicles, Elon Musk Says
“All the hardware exists to build fully autonomous vehicles, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk said Wednesday, but developers need more precise maps and the artificial intelligence to process them in a computer small enough to fit in a car.” Forbes. 9
Makers of Self-Driving Cars Ask What to Do with Human Nature
“Even before Tesla revealed that a fatal accident had occurred while one of its cars was in semiautonomous driving mode, a debate was well underway between researchers and engineers: Is it possible to get a driver to safely take back control of a car once the vehicle has started driving itself?” The New York Times. 10
Autonomous vehicle task force working to provide guidelines on remote testing
“The director of policy for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said a new task force organized to hash out regulatory standards for the autonomous vehicle industry expects to complete its findings by the end of the year.” Pittsburgh Business Times. 11
What Happens to Drivers? The Ripple Effects of Autonomous Cars Go Beyond Safety
“If you’re thinking about autonomous or self-driving cars these days, you’re probably thinking about safety. Recent events have raised serious doubts over whether self-driving cars are really ready for widespread public use. But that’s not what this story is about. This story is about the social and economic consequences of the coming wave of semi-autonomous and completely self-driving vehicles.” Digital Trends. 12
Is the world ready for driverless cars? Are driverless cars ready for the world?
“Many automotive and technology experts, however, expect that fully developing the technology and perfecting regulations for two-ton vehicles tooling around our roads without a human at the controls will take a decade or two. And determining to a statistical certainty whether autonomous vehicles are safer will take even longer.” Los Angeles Times. 13
Uber’s plan for self-driving cars bigger than its taxi disruption
“Uber has fundamentally changed the taxi industry. But its biggest disruption may be yet to come. The ride-hailing company has invested in autonomous-vehicle research, and its CEO Travis Kalanick (pictured above) has indicated that consumers can expect a driverless Uber fleet by 2030. Uber expects its service to be so inexpensive and ubiquitous as to make car ownership obsolete. Such ambitious plans could make its disruption of the taxi industry look quaint in comparison.” Mobility Lab. 14

Two presentations recently given at the CSG/EAST annual meeting in Quebec serve as additional resources:


1 Isaac, Lauren. “Driving Towards Driverless: A Guide for Government Agencies.” WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff. http://www.wsp-pb.com/Globaln/USA/Transportation%20and%20Infrastructure/ driving-towards-driverless-WBP-Fellow-monograph-lauren-isaac-feb-24-2016.pdf (accessed August 4, 2016).

2 U.S. Department of Transportation Releases Policy on Automated Vehicle Development.” U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. http://www.nhtsa.gov/About+NHTSA/Press+Releases/ U.S.+Department+of+Transportation+Releases+Policy+on+Automated+Vehicle+Development (accessed August 5, 2016).

3 Isaac, Lauren. “Driving Towards Driverless.”

4 Isaac, Lauren. “How Other Industries will be Impacted by Driverless Cars.” Driving Towards Driverless Cars. https://drivingtowardsdriverless.com/2015/12/04/how-other-industries-will-be-impacted-by-driverless-cars/ (accessed September 8, 2016).

5 Isaac, Lauren. “Driving Towards Driverless.”

6 Sloan, Sean. “As Federal Autonomous Vehicle Policy is Issued, States Poised to Move Quickly.” The Council of State Governments. September 22, 2016. http://knowledgecenter.csg.org/kc/content/federal-autonomous-vehicle-policy-issued-states-poised-move-quickly (accessed September 26, 2016).

7 Isaac, Lauren. “Driving Towards Driverless.”

8 Vlasic, Bill and Neal E. Boudette. “As U.S. Investigates Fatal Tesla Crash, Company Defends Autopilot.” The New York Times. July 12, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/13/business/tesla-autopilot-fatal-crash-investigation.html?_r=1.

9 McMahon, Jeff. “Software is the Last Obstacle to Fully Autonomous Vehicles, Elon Musk Says.” Forbes. August 4, 2016. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2016/08/04/software-is-the-last-obstacle-to-fully-autonomous-vehicles-elon-musk-says/#37d4d1f83d60.

10 Quain, John. “Makers of Self-Driving Cars Ask What to Do With Human Nature.” The New York Times. July 7, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/08/automobiles/wheels/makers-of-self-driving-cars-ask-what-to-do-with-human-nature.html.

11 Schooley, Tim. “Autonomous vehicle task force working to provide guidelines on remote testing.” Pittsburgh Business Times. July 12, 2016. http://www.bizjournals.com/pittsburgh/blog/morning-edition/2016/07/autonomous-vehicle-task-force-working-to-provide.html.

12 Zurschmeide, Jeff. “What Happens to Drivers? The Ripple Effects of Autonomous Cars Go Beyond Safety.” Digital Trends. July 7, 2016. http://www.digitaltrends.com/cars/will-self-driving-cars-cost-us-jobs/.

13 Hiltzik, Michael. “Is the world ready for driverless cars? Are driverless cars ready for the world?” Los Angeles Times. May 6, 2016. http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-driverless-cars-20160506-snap-story.html.

14 Goddin, Paul. “Uber’s plan for self-driving cares bigger than its taxi disruption.” Mobility Lab. August 18, 2015. http://mobilitylab.org/2015/08/18/ubers-plan-for-self-driving-cars-bigger-than-its-taxi-disruption/.