Preparing for Connected & Automated Vehicles

As connected and automated vehicle (CAV) technology races toward reality, there is an equal (if not sometimes greater) number of non-technical issues to address.

Federal, state and local agencies are increasingly asking whether there are actions that can be taken from a regulatory, legislative or policy viewpoint that would support and/or impact the evolution of CAV.

What regulatory changes may be on the horizon for CAVs?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) are federal regulations specifying design, construction, performance and durability requirements for motor vehicles and regulated automobile safety-related components, systems and design features. As currently written, they are based on assumptions of conventional vehicle designs and thus pose challenges for certain future design concepts, particularly for “driverless” concepts where human occupants have no way of driving the vehicle.

During the next several years, while existing vehicle manufacturers implement new advanced driver assist technologies (e.g., automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, etc.), there are minimal barriers. But as future vehicle developments begin to push the boundaries of conventional design (e.g., alternative cabin layouts, omission of manual controls), this would then be constrained by the current FMVSS or may not fully meet its objectives.

While longer-term change is likely needed to accommodate large-scale deployment of new vehicles, more immediate conversations are under way to accommodate testing and development of CAVs. Under current law, the U.S. Department of Transportation can exempt up to 2,500 vehicles in a 12-month period from the FMVSS rules. Automakers are seeking to dramatically expand that cap in legislation that has been proposed by the House and the Senate. The extent to which that change will occur has not yet been resolved (bills are still being debated), but some expansion is probable.

Do states need specific legislation to enable faster deployment of CAVs?

The proper question might be whether or not states need legislation to better govern the current testing of CAVs, and then follow it with legislation covering the eventual long-term deployment of CAVs.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Nevada was the first state to authorize the testing of autonomous vehicles in 2011. Since then, 22 states—Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermont and Washington D.C.—have enacted legislation related in some fashion to the testing and/or deployment of autonomous vehicles. Likewise, governors in Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Washington and Wisconsin have issued executive orders related to testing autonomous vehicles.

At the federal legislative level, the topic of CAV is not new to Congress, and in fact was first addressed in MAP-21, the authorization of transportation funding enacted in early 2012. The more recent authorization, the FAST Act (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act), includes specific language meant to “accelerate deployment of connected/autonomous vehicle technologies.” Last year the House passed HR 3388, Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution Act, or the SELF DRIVE Act. Soon after the Senate introduced The American Vision for Safer Transportation Through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies Act, or AV START Act. The Senate bill has not been put before the full body for a vote, but is expected to at some point during 2018. Should it pass, the bill has many similarities to the House bill, but there are enough differences that a conference committee will be required if/when it is passed.

Regulation and legislation are tools that can, and are, being used to govern and impact CAV. But in contrast to the rapid evolution of technical issues, by nature they move slowly.

What policies might states need for the testing and deployment of CAVs?

From a policy perspective, a deliberate approach is acceptable – and the most common recommendation from experts. A 2017 report by the Governors Highway Safety Association provided guidance, including a 5-point recommendation to (1) be informed, (2) be a player in your state, (3) understand the role of states, (4) don’t rush into passing laws or establishing regulations, and (5) be flexible—this is a new game. This advice is valuable because many agencies and legislators are struggling with definitions: operator versus driver, autonomous vehicle, pilot versus deployment, driverless vehicle, testing requirements and authority, etc. Coincidentally, these same issues of definition plague the technology conversation, as well as the public perception conversation.

Collaborative multi-agency and multidisciplinary working groups are a great first step toward following this advice, staying educated on the latest issues, and having deliberate and measured conversations without jumping to inaccurate or incomplete conclusions. Many agencies are doing just that, assembling with the intent of increasing dialogue. And it’s that dialogue that will be an important enabler of any future regulation, legislation or policy.

[Editor’s Note: To learn more about how WSP supports the planning, deployment and maintenance of intelligent transportation systems and connected and automated vehicle projects across the U.S., visit ]

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