The Challenge in Establishing Driverless Regulations

It has been a fascinating couple of months monitoring the evolution of the U.S. federal regulations. In early September, the House of Representatives passed an AV bill with unprecedented bi-partisan support (summary found here). Today, the Senate is developing a similar bill that will soon be going to a vote (summary found here). Despite the strong political support occurring at the federal level, there has been significant push-back occurring from the trucking industry (which was ignored in these bills) and the local and state governments (which have been pre-empted from certain responsibilities).

Instead of focusing on the objections, I do think it’s worth celebrating the historical significance of establishing any federal AV regulations at all. Governments around the world are struggling with how to regulate autonomous vehicles, a constantly-evolving technology. The struggle has been: how can the government establish appropriate protections, while still enabling technology advancement/innovation? I don’t think there’s a perfect answer, but I do commend the U.S. for trying! Moreover, this is a positive step towards avoiding the “patchwork of regulation” that’s been occurring at the state level.

Other governments have taken leadership positions as well. The United Kingdom (UK) established a 14-page Code of Practice for testing on UK roads and public places; the code of practice is non-statutory and developed to promote responsible testing. Estonia is allowing driverless vehicles as long as a driver is available to take over control at any time (source). Germany has established ethical guidelines for driverless vehicles, and Japan is also allowing the testing of driverless vehicles with significant stipulations (source). Finally, Singapore has established regulations that include demonstrating “basic roadworthiness and capabilities by passing safety assessments before they are even trialed on roads.” Singapore is also requiring robust accident mitigation plans, licensed drivers, limited test sites, and logging travel data (source).

Clearly, we’re at the earliest stage of regulatory development for driverless vehicles, but let’s celebrate these government agencies for their leadership. Just about every government entity who released regulations acknowledged that they will need to be adapted as the technology is further developed and understood. Let’s also make sure that the government agencies are getting feedback from all relevant stakeholders (private industry, universities, local and state governments, the disabled community, etc).

Are there other regulatory frameworks worth noting?  Any other industries that provide good examples for the driverless vehicles regulations?  Other countries’ regulations worth celebrating?

About Lauren Isaac

Lauren Isaac is the Director of Business Initiatives for the North American operation of EasyMile. Easymile provides electric, driverless shuttles that are designed to cover short distances in multi-use environments. Prior to working at EasyMile, Lauren worked at WSP where she was involved in various projects involving advanced technologies that can improve mobility in cities. Lauren wrote a guide titled “Driving Towards Driverless: A Guide for Government Agencies” regarding how local and regional governments should respond to autonomous vehicles in the short, medium, and long term. In addition, Lauren maintains the blog, “Driving Towards Driverless”, and has presented on this topic at more than 75 industry conferences. She recently did a TEDx Talk, and has been published in Forbes and the Chicago Tribune among other publications.
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