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Autonomous vehicles are hitting the road—are we ready?

By Rick Stoll November 30, 2016
autonomous vehicles

They’re called self-driving, driverless, autonomous, and highly automated vehicles. According to CB Insights, as of August 2016, nearly 33 companies—both start-ups and household names—are devoting resources to developing self-driving vehicles.

Thousands of engineers are working on this new technology. Before long, self-driving cars and trucks will become an integral part of daily commutes, errand runs for the visually or physically impaired, package deliveries, and trucking.

The development and testing of autonomous vehicles is proceeding at cyber speed, which poses a huge challenge for the federal government, states, and insurers, according to Verisk’s Engineering and Safety Service.

States are trying to keep up, if not get ahead of the development of autonomous vehicles. As of August 2016, six states and the District of Columbia had enacted autonomous vehicle legislation. The legislation varies considerably from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Several require the presence of a driver who can take manual control in an emergency; Florida doesn’t require a driver in the vehicle at all.

In an effort to lay the groundwork for states and standardize autonomous vehicle legislation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released the first Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, effective October 25, 2016. The primary focus of the policy is on highly automated vehicles (HAVs) or those in which the vehicle can take full control in at least some circumstances. One section of the document, entitled “Model State Policy,” presents a clear distinction between federal and state responsibilities for regulation of HAVs. It recommends policy areas for states to consider, with a goal of generating a consistent national framework for the testing and deployment of HAVs.

The Council of State Governments (CSG) reports that, as of August 2016, the following states/jurisdictions have issued legislation on autonomous vehicle testing and deployment:

  • Arizona allows selected university campuses to launch pilot programs, in partnership with entities developing autonomous technologies that allow an operator with a valid driver’s license to direct a vehicle’s movement, regardless of whether the operator is physically present in the vehicle.
  • California allows the operation of an autonomous vehicle on public roads for testing by a driver with the proper license. The law requires that the driver is seated in the driver’s seat, monitoring the safe operation of the autonomous vehicle, and capable of taking over immediate manual control in the event of a technology failure or other emergency.
  • District of Columbia requires a licensed driver who has the ability to manually override and control the autonomous vehicle.
  • Florida does not require a driver in the autonomous vehicle.
  • Michigan specifies testing conditions and addresses the liability of the original manufacturer of a vehicle on which a third party has installed an automated system.
  • Nevada requires an autonomous vehicle being tested to meet certain conditions relating to a human operator.
  • Tennessee established a certification program through the state Department of Safety. Manufacturers of autonomous vehicles must be certified under this program before the vehicles can be tested, operated, or sold.

CSG also addresses many states that host a variety of autonomous technology testing activities, whether or not they have related legislation in place. You can access the CSG analysis at http://www.csg.org/transportation.aspx.

Verisk Insurance Solutions offers a range of services related to personal and commercial auto underwriting, as well as loss control services.


Rick Stoll is Assistant Vice President for Product Development at Verisk Insurance Solutions and can be contacted at Rick.Stoll@verisk.com.