December 2017

Automation is the use of a machine or technology to perform a task or function that was previously carried out by a human. In driving, automation involves using radar, camera and other sensors to gather information about a vehicle's surroundings, which is then used by computer programs to perform parts or all of the driving task on a sustained basis. One example is adaptive cruise control, which maintains a set speed and in the presence of other traffic continually adjusts the vehicle's speed to maintain a set minimum following distance. But while full driving automation is not yet here, manufacturers are actively pursuing development, testing and deployment of driverless cars.

State and federal regulators have begun establishing regulatory frameworks that will govern how highly automated vehicles will operate on public roads. In 2011, Nevada became the first state to enact legislation specifically permitting research and testing of autonomous vehicles with limited and full self-driving capabilities on public roads. Today, 23 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation or issued executive orders addressing driving automation. The laws in seven of those states (Alabama, Illinois, Louisiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin) simply authorize a study, define key terms or authorize funding. Seven states authorize testing, while nine states and D.C. authorize full deployment. Only those 16 states and D.C. are included in the table and map below.

Laws allowing the operation of automated vehicles initially required a human operator to be present and capable of taking over in an emergency. However, 10 states, including Nevada, now allow testing or deployment without a human operator in the vehicle, although some limit it to certain defined conditions. In addition, eight states do not always require an operator to be licensed.

In September 2016, the National Highway Traffic Administration released policy guidance to help state lawmakers address testing and deployment of automated vehicle technology and encourage a consistent legislative approach nationwide.

Click on a state for more detail.