Autonomous Vehicle Regulations 2016-2017

I talked some about the 2016 NHTSA policy overview in part 3 of the collision series.  They were positive towards the industry, but also covered all the regulatory tools that NHTSA had and would need to have going forward to keep the roads safe as cars transition from human controlled to fully automatic driving.  In 2017 the updated NHTSA guidelines  came out and looked pretty good for all AV makers, the smaller ones especially.  To start off with, the changes were minimal.  There were a few more paragraphs in the guidance section and the phrasing was marginally more industry friendly, but ultimately very little changed year-to-year in the industry guidance section.

The important changes came in other sections.

In the model State policy, the change between 2016 and 2017 was quite noticeable.  Instead of being about ‘consistency’ of regulations across multiple States, there was a much more AV friendly approach.  The 2017 document has phrases like “States should not place unnecessary burdens on competition and innovation..” and a very interesting sentence:

For example, no data suggests that experience in vehicle manufacturing is an indicator of the ability to safely test or deploy vehicle technology. All entities that meet Federal and State law prerequisites for testing or deployment should have the ability to operate in the State

2017 was indeed quite a good year for the startups working on AV technology.  There was also a subtle removal of sections suggesting NHTSA would help States with their legislative policymaking, though since the entire document was streamlined that may have just been removed to simplify things.  The removal of almost all of the ‘law enforcement’ section and its mentions of distracted driving and how States should consider regulations dealing with inattentive drivers of level 3 and below vehicles is a strong indication of the new Department of Transportation’s priorities.

The biggest difference year-to-year was the document’s handling of regulatory tools.  In 2016 there were 20 pages about NHTSA procedures and how they affected AVs, and another 14 pages about what new tools they would need from Congress in order to effectively regulate.  In 2017, there was only a single block at the beginning (less than half a page) stating NHTSA has ‘broad enforcement authority.’  The lack of any mention of current regulatory tools or what tools may be necessary for NHTSA to regulate AVs effectively is suggestive that the new administration does not feel that enforcement and regulation are necessary.

Stateside, most States were maintaining either a friendly or hands-off approach.  California required that the legislature be informed if manufacturers requested a license to test a level 4 or above AV, but also allocated funds for connected infrastructure.  Connecticut actually mandated that at least 4 municipalities start testing AVs.  Illinois headed off attempts by cities and towns to regulate AVs.  Nevada did the same and even allowed testing of level 4+ AVs.  North Carolina abolished the requirement for a driver’s license in level 4+ AVs.  Texas abolished the requirement that an operator be present inside a level 4+ AV.

New York was one of the only places where things didn’t go so well.  Testing was allowed, but required all tests and demonstrations be conducted with the supervision of the State Police.  Luckily, no one has yet defined ‘test’ to include the data collection done by Tesla vehicles.


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