Technology continues to alter how people and goods move. One innovation that has the greatest potential to upend traditional travel is the automation of driving. Automated vehicles (AVs) could completely transform mobility networks, dramatically improve safety, reduce emissions, and provide access and mobility to underserved parts of society. The proliferation of AVs could also lead to more suburban sprawl, congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, and higher costs. Putting the right public policy in place now will help ensure that the transportation system of the future is safer, equitable, and more efficient.

In recent years, automated and semi-automated driving technologies have progressed significantly. Some automated features, such as lane centering and adaptive cruise control, are available on cars and trucks on the lot today and more advanced automotive technologies are currently being tested on public roads. Although there is much speculation about when fully automated vehicles will be widely and commercially available, there is no question about the impressive speed of recent development.

Meanwhile, the emerging AV industry is asking policymakers to adapt domestic frameworks to address the demands of AV sales and ensure U.S. competitiveness in the global market. This includes updating regulations, funding research and development, and investing in infrastructure. Crafting policy and investment plans that can adapt to a changing environment poses significant challenges for public officials at all levels of government. Nevertheless, it is important to consider the policy implications for AVs now as test vehicles with automated driving systems are already sharing public roads with drivers. Infrastructure updates, such as well-maintained pavements, striping, and signage, can facilitate technological benefits and increased safety.

This report updates Eno’s 2017 Beyond Speculation publication and discusses the current and future state of AVs, as well as the existing, proposed, and expected implications for federal, state, and local policy. It does not intend to summarize all the research nor provide new analysis of the potential implications of AVs. The goal is to provide an overview of the current policy arena and posit concrete and substantive recommendations for policymakers to responsibly test and deploy AVs on public roads.

The overarching aim of federal- and state-level policy on AVs should be to ensure public safety, to provide consistent frameworks for developers, and to create an environment where rules can adapt to unknown future outcomes. Given that AVs are still in the development phase, governments must take a performance-based approach instead of imposing strict technical requirements. The federal government has a clear role in regulating the safety of automated driving systems. States and local governments have more flexibility in the areas they have traditionally managed, such as roadway design, rules, and licensing, and may choose to pass laws or take executive actions, while others prefer to not take any steps. While each method comes with certain tradeoffs and pitfalls, each government must decide what is right for their own constituents. Within a broad framework, the following items outline specific steps or considerations of any approach.