July | August 2017







State Leaders Discuss Autonomous Vehicle Policy at CSG Policy Academy

By Sean Slone, CSG director of transportation & infrastructure policy
At the recently held CSG Autonomous and Connected Vehicle Policy Academy in Detroit, state policymakers from across the country discussed challenges of autonomous vehicle legislation. Despite obstacles, panelists discussed a variety of ways states can engage on these issues without passing new laws.
Representatives of the automotive industry told policy academy attendees the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy issued in September 2016 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was intended to help states figure out their role in setting policy in this area. It hasn’t quite worked out that way.
According to Jonathan Weinberger, vice president for technology policy at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing 12 of the largest U.S. automakers, there were roughly 70 bills introduced in 30 states during the 2017 legislative session.
“… I know a lot of the states have good intentions in bringing up these regulations or legislation because they want to encourage testing in their states,” Weinberger said. “The problem is when there are different standards in different bills in different states, it makes it very difficult for the automakers to figure out where to go and where to test.”
Other industry officials said there may be better ways for states to put down their markers on autonomous vehicles without turning to legislation that can be overly prescriptive or restrictive.
“We’ve seen recently in Washington and Wisconsin executive orders that look to help facilitate testing in the states, to get various stakeholders to learn about (autonomous vehicles) and get some experience with the technology,” said Steve Gehring, vice president for vehicle safety and connected automation at the Association of Global Automakers, which represents 12 international auto companies.
But not everyone in the industry agrees that states should avoid autonomous vehicle legislation altogether.
Harry Lightsey, executive director for emerging technologies policy at General Motors, said until Michigan passed its law in 2016, it was believed that all 50 states had a vehicle code that either required a person to sit behind the wheel and drive the vehicle or assumed a person would be behind the wheel, driving the vehicle.
“We think it’s critical that states have to take that first step of making it clear that it is legal and authorized to put a vehicle on the road without a human being behind the wheel,” Lightsey said. “Beyond that, we think there are various other provisions in state laws—licensing requirements, registration requirements, rules of the road—that need to be cleared up that clearly contemplate that there’s a person driving the vehicle and we’ve encouraged states to do that.”
Bryant Walker Smith, an assistant professor of law at the University of South Carolina, said there may be a good reason many automakers don’t want state legislation while GM does.
“What you might be seeing from automakers … is uncertainty about what they want—companies that don’t yet know exactly what their technologies, applications and business cases will be and until they figure that out, they’d prefer that you do nothing rather than do something that will ultimately turn out to be inconsistent with their vision,” Smith said. “GM has … decided that they know what they want and they’re aggressively pushing it. … That’s a sea change for GM, which in 2012 was instrumental in getting the first defeat of automated driving legislation in Arizona.”
Policy academy speakers had plenty of suggestions for how states can engage on autonomous and connected vehicle policy:
Speakers noted that the U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to offer revisions to its Federal Automated Vehicles Policy later this year. Congress is considering legislation as well that could clarify further the state and federal roles on autonomous and connected vehicle policy.
Policy academy keynote speaker Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, told attendees ultimately the No. 1 goal for public agencies should be to figure out how to not get in the way when it comes to these policies.
“How do you make it safe but how do you not get in the way?” Steudle said. “Because what I see going on right now is lots of handwringing (about) we’ve got to do this, we’ve got to do that. We’ve got to first and foremost not get in the way because I don’t think there is any legislature anywhere in the country … that can react as fast as this technology’s coming.”
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