Evolution of Self-Driving-Car Regulations
The number of registered passenger cars is inching toward 300 million in the US, second only to what hits the roads in China. With that in mind, it’s hard to think of a single issue that will affect more people than the seemingly inevitable transition from traditional to self-driving cars & trucks.
The Need for Uniform RulesWhere innovation and invention take us, regulators and legislators will follow - or lead the way - and leading the way is what the U.S. Department of Transportation had in mind when it issued a Federal Automated Vehicles Policy statement in September 2016.
The department's intent looks to be the creation of a uniform set of rules applied from coast to coast on the manufacture and operation of HAVs. The focus, at least in September, was on HAV systems under design. The department asked for voluntary sharing of information with regulators based on a 15-point safety assessment of HAV systems. Those 15 points are:
o Data recording and sharing
o System safety
o Vehicle cybersecurity
o Human-machine interface
o Consumer education and training
o Registration and certification
o Post-crash behavior
o Federal, state, and local laws
o Ethics considerations
o Operational design domain
o Object and event detection and response
o Fallback (minimal risk condition)
o Validation methods
Transitioning from the Obama to the Trump administration means federal regulation of HAVs will be static for a while, which basically leaves federal guidelines at the recommendation stage. The real action for now is at the state level.
New York's Plans for Self-Driving CarsNew York state currently has no laws on the books, but the state Assembly had three proposals in committee in 2016. The three HAV bills that were under consideration in 2016 were still pending in the New York Assembly when 2017 arrived:
- One New York state bill (AB 31) would regulate the operation and testing of vehicles with HAV technology.
- Another New York state proposal (AB 10586) calls for a study of the testing and use of HAVs on public highways. The plan calls for the commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation to support the effort. It also would regulate operation and testing of vehicles with HAV technology.
- There is a third proposal in New York state (SB 7879), which already has cleared the Senate, one that would exempt drivers from a state law requiring them to have at least one hand on the steering wheel at all times, if their vehicle has HAV technology and it is engaged.
New York was one of 20 states to introduce legislative proposals on HAVs in 2016. By the time 2017 arrived, eight states and the District of Columbia had HAV laws on the books, and two states had enacted executive orders on HAVs. Nevada led the way on legislation for self-driving cars in 2011 when it authorized the use of HAVs.
Most states have yet to weigh in on HAVs, and even the ones that allow them are operating in a gray area. Michigan has passed the most HAV laws, six. California, which has two HAV laws on the books, curbed an Uber pilot program in December by pulling the ride-hailing service's vehicle registrations for the fleet of HAVs it was testing in San Francisco.
Many Factors to ConsiderIn short, current laws and HAVs are on a collision course because what is on the books now only addresses HAVs indirectly. The hands-on-the-steering-wheel law New York is trying to revamp is a prime example. It unintentionally makes operating an HAV illegal.
As lawmakers work to revamp old laws and create new ones, there are many factors they must consider:
o What are the employment implications of HAVs in public transit, trucking, local delivery services, and personal use?
o What are the liability issues in crashes where no human has a direct role in operating one or all of the vehicles involved?
o Should HAVs be limited to highways?
o Will HAV technology eventually be used on planes, trains, boats, and ships?
o What type of cybersecurity risks are involved with HAVs?
There are so many questions and so few answers at this point that only one thing is certain: Lawyers and courtrooms will be central to shaping the laws and regulations governing all aspects of HAVs. That is why the attorneys at Belluck & Fox are so focused on the evolution of HAV technology and the law.