United States: Autonomous Vehicles: US Legal And Regulatory Landscape

Last Updated: August 16 2019
Article by Eric J. Tanenblatt, Jodi M. Adolf, Todd D. Daubert and Crawford Schneider

States with autonomous vehicles enacted legislation and executive orders


Alabama has no laws or regulations concerning autonomous passenger vehicles. However, the state has passed legislation concerning autonomous truck platooning. Looking forward, lawmakers in the state are beginning to pay greater attention to the subject of widespread autonomous transit. In 2017, the state Senate created a Legislative Committee on Self-Driving Vehicles to study the issue and this past March State Sen. Gerald Allen introduced legislation that would explicitly permit autonomous vehicles to operate in the state.


Arizona has one of the most permissive AV frameworks in the country, thanks to a series of executive orders signed by Gov. Doug Ducey. Automakers need only to notify the Arizona Department of Transportation before testing, as long as their vehicles comply with state and federal laws governing motor vehicles. The welcoming nature of Arizona's regulatory structure has solidified its standing as a hotbed of AV innovation. Waymo has been testing in the state for years and just recently trialed its "Waymo One" robo-taxi service in the Phoenix area. The company plans to expand the service through a partnership with ridesharing company Lyft in the next several months.


Arkansas recently joined the list of states that has specifically addressed autonomous transit. Lawmakers passed legislation earlier this year allowing AV companies to operate up to three vehicles in the state under an approved pilot program. Walmart, a proponent of the legislation, plans to test self-driving delivery trucks on a two-mile route between its warehouses in Bentonville. The state already allowed driver assistive truck platooning (DATP) under legislation that took effect in 2017.


California has taken a comprehensive approach to regulating autonomous vehicles, enacting several laws that lay out procedures for the testing and deployment of driverless cars. The state recently expanded its program from requiring backup drivers in all test vehicles to also allowing self-driving car tests without backup drivers. Operators must meet specific requirements and go through a DMV-administered application process. However onerous the burden, these regulations have not deterred AV companies, many of whom have a physical presence in Silicon Valley, from testing in the state. Over 50 companies currently hold permits to test in California, and several plan to introduce robo-taxi services in the coming year.


Companies seeking to test and operate autonomous vehicles in Colorado are greeted by a welcoming regulatory environment. Legislation enacted in 2017 allows driverless vehicles to be operated in the state as long as they are capable of complying with existing state and federal law. Additionally, Colorado's Department of Transportation is partnering with Ford, Panasonic and Qualcomm to deploy Cellular Vehicleto-Everything (C-V2X) technology along the heavily traveled Interstate 70 corridor. Although the state does not currently have any large-scale robo-taxi fleets, tech company EasyMile began testing a 15-passenger autonomous shuttle near the Denver Airport this year.


Of the states that have passed autonomous vehicle laws, Connecticut has one of the strictest regulatory structures. Operators must go through a multistage approval process, and testing will only be allowed in four municipalities, to be designated by the commissioner of the State Department of Transportation. Several municipalities, working with manufacturers such as French company Navya, have applied, or said they plan to apply, for a spot in the Fully Autonomous Vehicle Testing Pilot Program.


In June, Florida passed House Bill 311 to further relax its autonomous vehicle regulations. Under the new law, any driverless vehicle is allowed to operate in the state as long as it is capable of complying with existing state and federal laws and has liability insurance of $1 million. San Francisco-based Starsky Robotics was among the first companies to take advantage, on June 16 testing a fully unmanned truck on a nine-mile stretch of the Florida Turnpike. The company plans to use autonomous technology to operate its trucks on Florida highways, relying on remote operators in Jacksonville center to guide the trucks from the beginning to the end of their journey. Florida has made inroads in other segments of the AV industry as well—with microelectronics company BRIDG, AV-testing company Suntrax and LiDAR manufacturer Luminar all recently announcing plans to set up operations in the state.


Georgia allows the operation of both autonomous vehicles and trucks under legislation passed in 2017. Driverless vehicles are free to operate in the state as long as they are fully insured and registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles. At present, no robo-taxi services are operating in the state, however several autonomous shuttle projects are in their infancy, including a 12-passenger NAVYA autonomous shuttle that traverses the two miles between the MARTA rail station and a mixed-use development in the Atlanta suburb of Doraville.


Executive Order 17-07, signed by Gov. David Ige, signals that the state is "open for business for testing and deploying new driverless vehicles," and directs several state departments to work with any companies wishing to test autonomous vehicles in Hawai`i. Yet despite the state's mild weather conditions and the University of Hawai`i opening a dedicated research lab, there has not been widespread testing or deployment of driverless vehicles in the state. House Bill 1183, introduced this year, hopes to change this by implementing a clear and simple regulatory process for AVs.

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