Self-Driving Cars and the Law: States and Carmakers

Areas for State Oversight

  • Certification: Each state must certify that an AV’s autonomous technology is safe when all hardware and software are functioning as designed, as well as able to safely operate when hardware/software failures occur.
  • Registration: AVs not requiring a human driver — even for limited periods — should be identified as such, referencing their operational design domain (ODD), which outlines the strict conditions under which they may operate without a driver.
  • Drivers: States must sort out the different levels of autonomy, deciding which will require a licensed driver and under what circumstances. Even if a car isn’t totally autonomous, should it require a licensed driver if only operating within its ODD?
  • Laws: Sweeping changes to many current laws will be necessary to accommodate cars that, to at least some degree, drive themselves. States will need to reevaluate laws requiring drivers do certain things, like keeping their hands on the steering wheel, carrying driver’s licenses, and not texting or performing other distracted tasks.