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March 2018

As autonomous vehicles gain popularity, AAMVA offers policy and administration guidance for jurisdictions

While the idea of an autonomous vehicle can be traced back at least as far as the Renaissance with Leonardo da Vinci’s plan for a self-propelled cart, it has never been a reality for the average driver until recently. In the past few years, many companies such as Tesla, Google and General Motors have experimented with various levels of highly automated vehicles (HAVs), including some that are on the road today.

AAMVA members began discussing the necessity of providing official guidance for jurisdictions on this developing topic as far back as 2013, when some jurisdictions were beginning to see legislation enacted that required departments to establish new regulations. This laid the groundwork for the formation of the Autonomous Vehicles Best Practices Working Group, which was officially chartered in 2014. In 2016, the Working Group contributed to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “Federal Automated Vehicles Policy” document, and in March 2018 it will release its own updated guidance document.

Necessary Guidance

“The need for this guidance was twofold,” says Bernard C. Soriano, Ph.D., deputy director at the California Department of Motor Vehicles and chair of the Working Group. “One was companies were moving forward with the technology and they needed to do testing and development on public roadways. At the same time companies were coming up with technologies that would assist in the driving function and we realized that motor vehicle administrators need to be aware of these technical capabilities, because they will change our business.”

The Working Group broke down these issues into three categories: driver testing, vehicle credentials and law enforcement.

“The issues are things as simple as citing the vehicle for an infraction or how first responders react to the vehicle,” says Soriano. “Or for vehicle registration, how do we ensure the vehicle is following all of the traffic laws and that it’s maintained to a proper standard? And on the driver licensing side, how do these new technologies affect licensing drivers?”

A New Road Map

The guidance document being released in March answers specific questions like these, but it also offers a big-picture perspective on HAVs.
“Jurisdictions can use the guidance like a road map,” says Cathie Curtis, director of Vehicle Programs at AAMVA. “It can help them to see an overview of the issues at a high level, and then it can help them to narrow their focus to specific areas of interest. They can also use the document as a resource guide; it can provide them information and ideas to share with their colleagues in other state agencies, to begin to develop strategic plans and to draft proposed legislation.”