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Workshop Examines State Policy Issues Pertaining to Automated Vehicles

June 30, 2016

A recent workshop at the University of Maryland explored key principles and issues that states need to wrestle with in order to craft effective policies enabling the safe and efficient operation of advanced automated vehicles (AVs) on their roadways. As uncertainties in technology and business models play out, and in the absence of more suitable policies and regulations, states currently rely on laws created for conventional vehicles to govern AV operation.

The Automated Vehicle Policy and Regulation: A State Perspective Workshop — co-hosted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) along with the I-95 Corridor Coalition and the University of Maryland's National Transportation Center and Center for Advanced Transportation Technology and sponsored by Driverless Transportation — addressed such challenges. Panel discussions examined the underpinnings of policy development, factors affecting policy decisions, and the ultimate impact of AVs in a number of areas, including economic competiveness; quality of mobility, particularly for the disabled community; and energy use and emissions.

NREL Urban Mobility Project Leader Stanley Young moderated one of the panel sessions, which examined foundational issues associated with state policies and regulations. Related discussions pertaining to near-term state regulations emphasized the need for flexibility — not only when crafting future legislation, but also when considering AV issues currently under debate.

"States have traditionally regulated driving behavior through the issuance of motor vehicle licenses and the enforcement of traffic laws, while the federal government has regulated vehicle safety, but those roles are beginning to blur as vehicle control becomes more automated." Young said. "This shift has led to calls for a stronger federal role in legislation to harmonize AV operation across all 50 states — in response, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to issue guidelines (but not regulations) for state AV policy later this year."

Other panel discussions addressed legal, insurance, social equity, and data privacy issues, with a focus on identifying key principles that can provide a common foundation for the operation and regulation of AVs across all states. "This is critical to ensure safe operation, efficient travel, and environmental benefits when AVs become commercially available, as well as to speed the deployment of future advances in this technology," Young added.

NREL Legal and Regulatory Analyst Aaron Levine was among the presenters. In his AV Regulation: An Energy and Emissions Perspective presentation, Levine shared early research results indicating the potential of AVs to significantly alter future energy use and greenhouse gas production depending on the method of adoption. Levine suggested that energy policy and AV policy could be approached in tandem, as climate change looms large in national and international priorities.  

For more information about the workshop, refer to the Automated Vehicle Policy and Regulation: A State Perspective Workshop Summary.

Learn about NREL's transportation research and Sustainable Mobility Initiative.

—Julia Thomas