Innovation Breeds Legislation

by William Mattar | March 16th, 2017

As chronicled in a previous blog entry, the California Department of Motor Vehicles has released draft regulations for the public deployment of autonomous vehicles, prompting a sharp rebuke from Google, who claims the regulations—which aim to require in all vehicles a licensed operator capable of taking control at any given moment—stifle innovation.

California is not the only state on the autonomous vehicle forefront. Utah has joined the fray. There state legislator Robert Spendlove (R) has sponsored “HB 280 – Autonomous Vehicle Study,” a bill which requires a study to determine best practices for regulation of self-driving cars on Utah roadways.

According to a recent article in Utah Political Capitol, the study “calls for several things to be analyzed including an evaluation of suggested standards by various agencies, a look at what safety features may be appropriate in Utah’s ever-changing climate, and evaluation of other states’ approaches to regulating autonomous vehicles.”

If approved, the Utah Department of Public Safety is expected to present its findings before December 1, 2016. Of course, this blog will keep you apprised of any developments.

With the introduction of self-driving cars on our roadway imminent, it is anticipated that more and more states will take steps to prepare their roadways for the deluge.

The floodgates were opened several weeks ago, when, in a letter dated February 4, 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opined that artificial intelligence can be considered a “driver” under Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards:
NHTSA will interpret ‘driver’ in the context of Google’s described motor vehicle design as referring to the (self-driving system), and not any one of the vehicle occupants.

The letter went further: “We agree with Google (it’s self-driving car) will not have a driver in the traditional sense that vehicles have had drivers during the last more than one hundred years.”

A Reuters article observed that the NHTSA’s position represented “a major step toward ultimately winning approval for autonomous vehicles on the road.”

Addressing California’s draft rule, the article quotes Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book: “[If] NHTSA is prepared to name artificial intelligence as a viable alternative to human-controlled vehicles, it could substantially streamline the process of putting autonomous vehicles on the road,”

Streamlining is what Google and the major automakers want. The states will likely adopt a more cumbersome approach.

New York’s Assembly Bill A31, which was introduced on January 7, 2015 and subsequently referred to the Committee on Transportation, will “provide for and regulate the operator and testing of motor vehicles with autonomous technology.” The Bill has a stated purpose
[t]o amend the vehicle and traffic law, in relation to authorizing the testing and operation of autonomous motor vehicles upon public highways; to amend the general obligations law, in relation to the liability of motor vehicle manufacturers for vehicles converted to autonomous motor vehicles; and directing the commissioner of motor vehicles to make recommendations upon additional legislative actions relating to autonomous vehicles
In other words, assuming the law passes, big changes are in store for New Yorkers.

Stay tuned for our next blog entry, as the William Mattar Law Offices explores the fine print of this pending legislation.