States Have the Power To Regulate Autonomous Vehicles—But Most Don’t

States tend to default to national standards for regulating AVs, but federal officials have been slow to implement rules directed specifically at autonomous vehicles.

2 minute read

April 20, 2022, 5:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Rendering of autonomous vehicle with woman reading at the wheel

metamorworks / Autonomous vehicle

Wyatt Gordon asks whether states, more specifically Virginia, should create their own legal frameworks for regulating autonomous vehicles, or default to national standards, as many do now. “As is often the case in the United States, the regulation of autonomous vehicles is largely left to the states, resulting in a patchwork of conflicting and confusing policies where some sort of national approach ought to exist.” While states have the right to create laws regulating the technology, Gordon points out, few have taken steps to do so.

Amanda Hamm, the Virginia Department of Transportation’s connected and automated vehicle program manager, said that in the Commonwealth, “Currently AVs are basically just being treated as human drivers. Any law that applies to a person operating a vehicle also applies to whoever is operating that autonomous vehicle.”

According to Gordon, “So far the NHTSA has done little to prevent AVs from running red lights, swerving toward concrete barriers, or even killing pedestrians; however, last month the agency launched an education campaign to help consumers understand that systems like those from Tesla called “autopilot” and “full self-driving” don’t truly mean what they say (and could kill you or others).”

As an example of an existing AV program, Gordon points to Fairfax County’s Relay electric shuttle, which travels at 10 miles per hour over a one-mile route on a limited schedule, with a ‘safety steward’ on board. The shuttle is designed as a pilot for assessing the functionality of the technology and “how the shuttle itself interacts with other vehicles on the road and pedestrians,” said John Zarbo, the operations section chief at Fairfax Connector, which operates Relay. “County leaders have considered other shuttle routes around the Reston or Franconia Metro stations, but the limits of the technology have so far prohibited a second shuttle coming online. Whether it’s fast-flowing highway traffic or a complex urban environment, humans are far better at adapting their behavior to changing conditions.” 

Tuesday, April 19, 2022 in Greater Greater Washington

View down New York City alleyway at nighttime

Red Cities, Blue Cities, and Crime

Homicides rose across the nation in 2020 and 2021. But did they rise equally in all cities, or was the situation worse in some than in others?

March 12, 2023 - Michael Lewyn

babyt Boomer Homeowners

The Shifting Boomer Bulge: More Bad News for America’s Housing Crisis?

In the first of a two-part series, PlaceMakers’ Ben Brown interviews housing guru Arthur C. Nelson on the sweeping demographic changes complicating the housing market.

March 12, 2023 - PlaceShakers and NewsMakers

Yellow on black "Expect Delays" traffic sign

A Serious Critique of Congestion Costs and Induced Vehicle Travel Impacts

Some highway advocates continue to claim that roadway expansions are justified to reduce traffic congestion. That's not what the research shows. It's time to stop obsessing over congestion and instead strive for efficient accessibility.

March 14, 2023 - Todd Litman

A toll payment facility in Florida.

Tolling All Lanes

Bay Area transportation planners are studying a radical idea to reduce traffic congestion and fund driving alternatives: tolling all lanes on a freeway. Even more radical, the plan considers tolling parallel roads.

5 hours ago - San Francisco Chronicle

Close-up of person holding up smartphone next to contactless fare reading device on bus

Federal SMART Grants Awarded for Transportation Safety, Equity Projects

The grant program focuses on the use of technology to improve safety, accessibility, and efficiency in transportation.

6 hours ago - U.S. Department Of Transportation

Seattle Transit

Fare Enforcement Upheld by Washington Supreme Court

But using armed police to enforce fare payment is less than ideal in the eyes of the top court in the state of Washington.

7 hours ago - Crosscut

Planner II

City of Greenville

Planner I

City of Greenville

Rural Projects Coordinator (RARE AmeriCorps Member)

Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) AmeriCorps Program

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.