Guest Op-Ed: Entrepreneurs and the Need for an Autonomous Vehicle National Framework

When Level 5 autonomous vehicles are introduced to society and deployed for use the winners will not be traditional car manufacturers, but entrepreneurs who believed in the American dream and the public. These entrepreneurs will go on to completely reimagine the future of transportation while giving mobility to those who are most in need of a reliable form of point to point, on demand transportation.

These entrepreneurs understand that autonomous vehicles (AVs) will usher in the single greatest change in society since the industrial revolution. They understand that history repeats itself and they are well prepared for what the future brings. Today, the biggest hurdle currently facing them is that there is no clear guidance on how to deploy AVs on public roads in all 50 states.

Each and every state is taking a different approach to AVs, resulting a in patchwork of inconsistent policies. This has an overall negative effect on AV development, as it is limiting where and when AVs can be deployed and tested on public roads.

This year alone, 33 states have introduced AV legislation. While this has been mostly misconstrued by the public as being innovative and good for the state’s economy, the opposite is true. Recent legislation passed in New York and Connecticut is likely to slow down the deployment and eventual adoption of autonomous vehicles instead of speeding it up.

On May 10, 2017 Governor Cuomo announced that New York is now accepting applications from companies interested in testing or demonstrating autonomous vehicles on public roads. In the announcement, Governor Cuomo stated:

“New York has emerged as one of the nation’s leading hubs for innovation, and as we invite companies and entrepreneurs to reimagine transportation technology, we will encourage the development of new, safe travel options for New Yorkers.”

While this is a bold statement with a great vision for the State of New York, it runs counterintuitive to the actual policy which was signed into law with with the FY 2018 budget. New York’s autonomous vehicle policy is covered in red tape, complimented with high costs as each “test” has to be be supervised by the New York State Police.

The rate for this service is $92.73 per regular hour and $131.67 per overtime hour, plus a mileage fee of 53.5 cents per mile. New York State Police estimate that for every 115 miles tested, it will cost autonomous vehicle companies $680.94.

The State of Connecticut followed in New York’s steps by limiting autonomous vehicle deployment with the passage of Senate Bill 260, which was signed by Governor Malloy on June 27, 2017. It states:

“The Office of Policy and Management, in consultation with the Departments of Motor Vehicles, Transportation and Emergency Services and Public Protection, shall establish a pilot program for not more than four municipalities to allow autonomous vehicle testers to test fully autonomous vehicles on the highways of such municipalities.”

When the legislation was signed by Governor Malloy, the headlines read “Connecticut Welcomes Autonomous Vehicles,” creating the false sense of a “win” for the state and the public. But, similar to New York’s law, Senate Bill 260 will limit innovation and discourage testing and the eventual deployment of autonomous vehicles in Connecticut due the stringent rules and limited deployment on highways in four municipalities.

Testing of autonomous vehicles needs to happen in real-world environments on public roads with uncontrolled and unpredictable conditions. In doing so, AV developers are able to demonstrate their safety before they are eventually deployed to consumers. Individuals do not drive in controlled geo-fenced environments with police escorts; they drive in uncontrolled, unpredictable environments every day – and AVs would ultimately do the same.

While Connecticut and New York have limited the deployment of autonomous vehicles, states such as Arizona, Nevada and Florida are leading the way on noninvasive innovative policy and executive orders that encourages the active testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles on public roads.

The policy approaches of Arizona, Nevada and Florida are having a positive impact on their states’ economies, spurring job creation and investment. The global passenger economy which includes autonomous vehicles is projected to be worth $7 trillion by 2050, creating opportunities for every state.

To truly unleash the economic growth that autonomous vehicles will bring, we cannot have a patchwork of regulations from state to state that limits their true potential. Autonomous vehicles have to be able to operate in all 50 states under the same rules and regulations.

The legislation on automated vehicles recently passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee is a positive step in the right direction as it will create a national framework.

While the House advances its legislation, entrepreneurs are also looking to Senator Thune and Senator Peters in the Senate to show that both parties (and chambers) can come together to find common that advances the adoption and eventual deployment of autonomous vehicles in all 50 states.

Without action, the United States stands to lose its competitive edge on autonomous vehicles if entrepreneurs follow in the footsteps of NuTonomy and deploy their initial autonomous vehicle services overseas due to regulations – ultimately benefitting economies outside of the United States.

To avoid this scenario, we need to come together in a bipartisan way to pass legislation that creates a national framework of autonomous vehicle regulations. This could eliminate the patchwork of laws and level the playing field for developers regardless of state or region, allowing entrepreneurs, startups and established companies to create and launch new AV services for the betterment of society.

The views expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Eno Center for Transportation.

Search Eno Transportation Weekly

Latest Issues

Happening on the Hill