States pursue, enact rules on use of autonomous vehicles

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor

In the past couple of years the majority of state legislatures have discussed, and some have adopted, rules on the use of autonomous 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 certain states around the country.

Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee and Utah were 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 certain requirements are met.

Growth of the technology’s use has spurred the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to set model state policy on autonomous vehicles. At the state level, legislators from coast to coast are taking action on use of the technology.

In 2016, lawmakers in at least 18 states offered bills covering autonomous vehicles. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the total is up from six states in 2012.

The uptrend is not expected to slow in the months ahead. Below are some notable efforts followed by Land Line.

In December, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a bill package to update state laws on autonomous vehicles.

SB995-998 permits operation on public roads and does not require a person to be inside the vehicle. Operators would be required to supervise and control the vehicle. Truck platoons, however, would be required to have a CDL holder behind the wheel.

Intended to boost autonomous vehicle research in the state, the new law allows for testing of vehicles on small stretches of public road that are decommissioned.

Snyder said the legislative action positions the state for well into the future.

“Michigan put the world on wheels and now we are leading the way in transforming the auto industry,” the governor said in prepared remarks. “... As new technology is developed, we will continue as the leader the rest of the world sees as its biggest competition.”

California Gov. Jerry Brown has also taken recent action to advance autonomous technology. A new law authorizes the Contra Costa Transportation Authority to conduct a pilot project to test autonomous vehicles that do not possess a steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedal, or vehicle operator. The exceptions would be permitted only at specific sites in Contra Costa County.

State rules have required testing vehicles to have brakes, a steering wheel, and a person in the driver’s seat.

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, said the long-term goal is to use the robot vehicles to improve mobility by connecting riders to larger mass transit platforms.

Elsewhere, Florida state lawmakers acted in 2016 to authorize a study on the use of truck platooning technology. Among the rules waived for testing purposes is the state’s following distance requirements.

Sunshine State lawmakers also approved adding to and amending 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.

Missouri state lawmakers also acted this past year to authorize driver-assistive truck platooning technology on state highways, but then-Gov. Jay Nixon turned it back.

The Republican-led General Assembly voted to set up a six-year pilot program to permit truck platoons of up to two vehicles with less than 50 feet separation.

State law prohibits truck and bus drivers from following another such vehicle within 300 feet.

Nixon, a Democrat, acknowledged that automated driving technology has advanced significantly within recent years; however, in his veto message he said the “long-term safety and reliability of this technology remains unproven.”

The former governor who left office in January added that “using Missouri highways as a testing ground for long-haul trucks to deploy this unproven technology is simply a risk not worth taking at this time.”

An override attempt came up nine votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed for passage.

Not to be deterred, Republican Rep. Charlie Davis of Webb City has a new bill to authorize the truck platoons.

Republican Gov. Eric Greitens has not addressed the issue.

In Pennsylvania, a task force is working 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.

Across the state line in New Jersey, an Assembly bill covers the use of autonomous, self-driving vehicles. A3745 would permit testing of self-driving vehicles on roadways in certain circumstances.

A separate effort in the Garden State covers the use of self-driving vehicles. Specifically, any autonomous vehicle sold in the state would be required to have an ignition interlock device installed.

Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin, D-Middlesex, is behind the effort, which would prevent drunk drivers from using autonomous vehicles to evade laws on driving under the influence.

Among the states with legislative efforts for 2017 that cover autonomous vehicles are Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. LL