Are autonomous vehicles coming to more states

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor

Despite the fatality in May in which a Tesla on autopilot hit a semi trailer, autonomous technology remains the buzz. Highway users want rules.

Legislatures from coast to coast are discussing new guidelines that cover the use of autonomous, self-driving vehicles. Vehicles that are intended to navigate their way through traffic without requiring someone to hold the steering wheel already are authorized for testing in some states.

Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee and Utah are the first states to adopt rules related to the use of autonomous vehicles through state law, regulation or executive order. The rules adopted permit research and testing of the vehicles on public roads after various requirements are met.

Growth of the technology’s use has spurred the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to work on setting model state policy. A draft of the guidelines is expected this summer. In the meantime, state lawmakers continue to create their own path.

So far this year lawmakers in at least 18 states have introduced bills related to autonomous vehicles. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, that’s up from six states only four years ago.

In Florida, state lawmakers voted earlier this year to add to and amend existing rules on the use of autonomous vehicles. The new law eliminates testing requirements for use on public roads and deletes the requirement that a driver must be in the vehicle.

A second rule approved by Sunshine State lawmakers calls for a study on the use of driver-assistive truck platooning technology. A pilot project is also permitted.

One Michigan bill would update the state’s law. SB995 would permit operation without a person in the vehicle, authorize use throughout the state, and allow for platooning of vehicles that include large trucks.

In Missouri, the governor vetoed a bill that included a provision that covers driver-assistive truck platooning technology.

Missouri law now prohibits truck and bus drivers from following another such vehicle within 300 feet. Affected drivers are also prohibited from following a vehicle more closely than is “reasonably safe and prudent.”

HB1733 sought to set up a six-year pilot program to exempt truck platoons of up to two vehicles.

The California Senate has approved its own truck platooning legislation. SB431 would allow vehicles equipped with a truck-assistive platooning system to operate less than 100 feet apart.

Another Assembly approved bill, AB2682, spells out how the state would work to adopt NHTSA policy for states.

One more bill, AB1592, would authorize the Contra Costa Transportation Authority to conduct a pilot project to test low-speed, multi-passenger, shared autonomous vehicles that are not equipped with a steering wheel, brake pedal, accelerator or operator.

Across country in New York, the Senate approved a bill to greenlight testing of self-driving vehicles. State law now requires drivers to keep one hand on the steering wheel at all times.

N.Y. Sen. Joe Robach, R-Monroe, is behind a bill to permit the use of hands-free driving technology.

“With the successful passage of this legislation, we have successfully taken steps to remove any roadblocks that might have prevented the sale of self-driving vehicles,” Robach said in prepared remarks.

The issue is not without critics at the statehouse. Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, has questioned how the technology could possibly work while navigating through the congestion of New York City.

The bill, S7879, awaits consideration in the Assembly.

Legislation under review in New Jersey and Pennsylvania would permit testing of self-driving vehicles on roadways in certain circumstances. In the Keystone State, a task force has also been created to develop guidance for the state transportation department to use when drafting autonomous vehicle policy.

PennDOT leads the group made up of state, federal, education, trucking and industry officials.

Leslie Richards, the state transportation director, wrote on the governor’s website that the state is intent on becoming a national leader in autonomous vehicle testing.

An Illinois bill calls for a study on the feasibility of operating affected vehicles in the state. The House-approved bill, HB3136, is under review on the Senate floor.