Will a car be driving itself? Yes!

August 3, 2018

As the late, great Yogi Berra said, “It is not over until it’s over.”

In the midst of the hot summer season and with the 2018 legislative session long past, some of us continue to work on various issues. One of the more interesting topics being addressed is autonomous vehicles (AV).

Nevada is leading the way as the first state to authorize the operation of autonomous vehicles in 2011. Since then, the number of states considering AV legislation has been growing every year. During 2017, 33 states introduced AV legislation, including

Connecticut, which passed Senate Bill 260: AN ACT CONCERNING AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES.

This rapidly growing technology is being used in the computer assisted and self-parking cars we now see everywhere. I believe this technology can offer enormous economic and societal benefits including safety and mobility for the disabled and frail elderly population. Studies show that 90% of car accidents are due to human error.

In Connecticut, engaging in the process to vet and, ultimately, approve the use of AV will be positive on many levels. It is helping advance new technology, software, coding, infrastructure, businesses, and workforce development and training.

The bill defines a “fully autonomous vehicle” as a motor vehicle equipped with an “automated driving system” that is designed to function without an operator and classified as SAE level four or five. Level four and five AVs have the highest level of automation and can operate without the expectation of human intervention.

This bill requires the Office of Policy and Management, in consultation with the departments of Motor Vehicles, Transportation, and Emergency Services and Public Protection, to establish a pilot program to allow manufacturers and fleet service providers to test fully AVs in up to four municipalities. It establishes requirements for testing under the program and requires participating municipalities to enter into agreements with AV testers. So far, Stamford and Windsor Locks have applied to be test site with a few others towns considering the option.

The bill also creates a 15-member task force to study AVs. As Co-Chair of the legislature’s Transportation Committee, my fellow co-chairs and I recently convened the first meeting of the Autonomous Vehicles (AV) Task Force.

This task force is charged with studying AVs and must, at the minimum,

  1. evaluate NHTSA’s standards on state responsibilities for regulating AVs;
  2. evaluate other states’ proposed or enacted laws, legislation, and regulations on AVs;
  3. recommend how the state should regulate fully autonomous vehicles through legislation and regulation; and
  4. evaluate the pilot program established by the bill.

In addition to the state agencies in attendance, there were representatives of the pilot cities, as well as attorneys, zoning officers, industry representatives and a UCONN professor whose focus is on transportation and sustainability.

Some of the technical and behavioral issues discussed included

  • risks,
  • criminal or civil liability when software malfunctions or an accident occurs,
  • drones,
  • cyber security,
  • computer hacking,
  • privacy,
  • police interaction,
  • zoning issues,
  • interstate drivers,
  • local versus interstate roads,
  • licensure, and
  • testing

Though the challenges may seem daunting, the question is not if we will adapt to AVs. The question is when, because they will be here before we know it.

We should embrace this new area as we advance in age and may, at any time, find ourselves in need of a car that drives itself!

I am looking forward to hearing the final report of the task force finding and sharing them with my colleagues and with you!

State Senator Toni Boucher represents the communities of the 26th State Senate District, which include Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport, and Wilton.