The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says in its guidelines for automakers and state regulators regarding autonomous vehicles that “‘automated’ or ‘self-driving’ vehicles are a future technology rather than one that you’ll find in a dealership tomorrow or in the next few years,” because “a variety of technological hurdles have to be cleared, and other important issues must be addressed before these types of vehicles can be available for sale in the United States.” However, the NHTSA also says that “fully automated cars and trucks that drive us, instead of us driving them, will become a reality.”
So, where does that leave us? Well, it leaves a lot of work for the federal government, states and automakers and their suppliers. For example, currently, as written, federal auto regulations require that all vehicles have a steering wheel and brakes, so if automakers want to test autonomous vehicles without people-centric controls, they have to obtain waivers. States, on the other hand, have to regulate how vehicle operators are licensed in these autonomous vehicles, as well as the ‘new’ rules of the road and how insurance is regulated. Right now, there is a lot of different legislative activity among the states related to autonomous vehicles, but it is a patchwork. To alleviate some of this confusion, the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) has been working to develop legislation for automated vehicles that states can use. As it stands, the draft version of these rules from the ULC state that automakers must self-certify to NHTSA that their vehicles meet safety requirements and that the vehicle will abide by the rules of the road. People riding in self-driving cars would not have to have driver’s licenses.
On the Federal side, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill relating to autonomous vehicles, and the Senate has its own version, although it has not yet been provided to the Senate Commerce Committee.
For now, automakers and passengers alike are left with the patchwork of rules and regulations. As the technology progresses and automakers prove that these vehicles are safe for the roads, we will likely see a clearer path of legislation. We will continue to monitor this evolving space.