Given the cost and complexity of the challenge, autonomous vehicle technology is developing with blistering speed. What has evolved less rapidly is the legal landscape as it relates to these vehicles. Efforts by the federal government to develop new legislation governing AVs have stalled. Law at the state level is fragmented, where it exists at all. Some cities have started developing policies to guide operation and deployment of the technology, but the vast majority haven’t.
States have taken the lead in governing AVs. Federal law may ultimately preempt these laws, but, for now, states are shaping how and where AV testing is occurring. If you are interested in the details of these laws, you can find summaries and links all of them at this link.
As is evident in the graphic below, roughly 1/3 of the states have taken no action formal to-date. This generally (though not necessarily) means that AV are prohibited because most state laws were conceived with a human in mind.
Nine states have passed only executive orders. With the exception of Washington and Arizona, these executive orders create task forces to study and propose action in response to this technology. The governors of Washington and Arizona have used their executive authority to authorize testing of this technology. Of any state, Arizona has gone the furthest in permitting this technology. Given the state’s hands-off approach and its favorable weather, it is no surprise that Arizona is at the vanguard of AV testing.
The other 22 states have already passed legislation defining and, to varying extents, governing autonomous vehicles.
To the consternation of this nascent industry, legislation at the state level is immensely variable in its scope and permissiveness. The maps below summarize where states stand on the following core issues related to AVs:
- Permits commercial operation
- Permits AV testing with remote operator
- Permits AV testing with local operator
- Permits truck platooning
- Creates license & registration requirements
- Addresses privacy
- Incorporates reporting requirements
- Addresses insurance & liability
- Preempts local regulation
There are some important notes on the maps below:
- Only states that explicitly address a particular topic through AV specific legislation were tagged with a yes. That does not mean that a state has no way of dealing with an issues through existing state law.
- There is enormous variability in how and the extent to which states address a topic. A yes for one state should not be construed as a yes for another state. That is the subject for an entirely different post.
Permits commercial operation
This highlights states that already allow companies to sell their mobility services to the public. This is true for all states that permit AV operations and don’t explicitly permit testing and nothing else.
Permits AV testing with remote operator
These are states that allow testing to occur with no operator in the driver seat. The control a remote operator is required to have varies immensely.
Permits AV testing with local operator
These states allow AV testing to occur if a qualified operator is in the drivers seat
Permits truck platooning
Most states establish safe traveling distances for vehicles. These states have waived those requirements for vehicles that are equipped with platooning technology.
Creates license & registration requirements
These states have created systems for licensing and registering the testing and operating AVs.
Addresses privacy issues
Only one state has made an effort to-date to address the privacy concerns raised by autonomous vehicles.
Incorporates reporting requirements
These states require operators of autonomous vehicles to submit periodic performance reports. The detail required in these reports varies significantly.
Addresses insurance & liability
These states have included specification for insurance & liability for autonomous vehicles.
Preempts local regulation
Many states have taken the step of preempting local regulations that might conflict with or limit local operation of AVs.