The state of self-driving car laws across the U.S.

Cindy Ponder-Budd

Despite two fatal accidents involving semi-autonomous cars occurring within days of each other in March, testing of the technology continues. On April 2, California expanded its testing rules to allow for remote monitoring instead of a safety driver inside the vehicle. Waymo and another company have since applied to begin testing in the state.


Looking at the AV database from the National Conference of State Legislatures, we can track the progress of states in passing legislation. Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have passed laws and an additional 10 state governors have issued executive orders regarding the operation of autonomous vehicles, while ten other state legislatures have considered legislation and the remaining eight state legislatures have not considered any.

California requires companies that test self-driving cars in the state to report the number of miles driven as well as the number of disengagements, or times a human driver taken control from the autonomous system. The number of disengagements per vehicle mile driven must have fallen enough to warrant a relaxing the rule to require a safety driver.

The two vehicle fatalities in March emphasize the human costs of testing technology. Fully realized, replacing human drivers with artificial intelligence could drastically reduce motor vehicle deaths, a toll that claimed over 40,000 lives in the U.S. in 2016. States should learn from regulations that promote innovation and safety at the same time.


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