Beyond Speculation: Automated Vehicles and Public Policy

Beyond Speculation: Automated Vehicles and Public Policy

This paper discusses the current and future state of AVs, and the implications for policy at the federal, state, and local levels. It does not intend to summarize all the research nor provide new analysis of the potential implications of AVs. The goal is to provide concrete and substantive recommendations for policymakers in order to responsibly deploy AVs on public roads.

Key findings

AVs are upending the traditional definitions of licensing, liability, and insurance for automobiles. In a future where computers are increasingly responsible for operating cars, determining blame in a car crash has become less clear. In response, Congress should pass legislation allowing NHTSA to create AV system certifications and should support the harmonization of state tort laws that explicitly align liability with the certifications and roles of the automated features and the human driver. For their part, states should create stakeholder working groups to oversee the development of state and local laws.

AVs and connected vehicles will be accompanied by a deluge of data and, consequently, the need for an increased focus on cybersecurity. NHTSA should explicitly define that the ownership of the vehicle’s data corresponds to the operator of the vehicle. Due to the sensitivity of the data being collected, Congress should explicitly require the AV industry to protect the privacy of vehicle owners. Congress should also define AV developers’ limited liability for crashes that result from a security breach. States and cities should establish data sharing agreements to enhance local transportation planning and operations.

Existing infrastructure will also need to be maintained and updated to accommodate AVs. At the state and local level, investments need to be made in robust “state of good repair” programs that will benefit all users of public roads, regardless of the degree of automation. This poses significant funding barriers for cities and states that may already be struggling to maintain their roads. To help, Congress should develop a per-mile charge fee system for AVs.

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