The State of State Law for Autonomous Vehicles

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.

Regulation Type

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 Commercial Operation

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 with Remote Operator

Permits AV testing with local operator

These states allow AV testing to occur if a qualified operator is in the drivers seat

Permits with Local Operator

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.

Permits Truck Platooning

Creates license & registration requirements

These states have created systems for licensing and registering the testing and operating AVs.

License and Registration

Addresses privacy issues

Only one state has made an effort to-date to address the privacy concerns raised by autonomous vehicles.

Privacy

Incorporates reporting requirements

These states require operators of autonomous vehicles to submit periodic performance reports. The detail required in these reports varies significantly.

Reporting

Addresses insurance & liability

These states have included specification for insurance & liability for autonomous vehicles.

Insurance and Liability

Preempts local regulation

Many states have taken the step of preempting local regulations that might conflict with or limit local operation of AVs.

Preempts Local Regs


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