October 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.

State What type of driving automation on public roads does the law/provision permit? Does the driving automation law/provision...
Require an operator to be licensed? Require an operator to be in the vehicle? Require liability insurance?
Arizona testing yes no yes
California testing yes1 depends on where vehicle is used2 yes; $5,000,000
Colorado deployment no n/a no
Connecticut testing yes yes yes; $5,000,000
District of Columbia deployment yes yes no
Florida deployment yes no no
Georgia deployment depends on level of vehicle automation3 depends on level of vehicle automation4 yes5
Massachusetts testing no yes no
Michigan depends on vehicle6 yes no yes
Nevada deployment depends on level of vehicle automation7 depends on level of vehicle automation8 yes9
New York testing yes yes yes; $5,000,000
North Carolina deployment depends on level of vehicle automation10 no yes
Tennessee deployment no no yes; $5,000,000
Texas deployment no no yes
Utah deployment n/a n/a n/a
Virginia testing n/a n/a no
Washington testing depends on whether operator present in vehicle no yes

1California requires the operator to be a specially licensed driver.

2California requires the specially licensed driver to be in the vehicle unless it is being operated at a privately owned business park designated by the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, inclusive of public roads within that park, or at the GoMentum Station located within the boundaries of the former Concord Naval Weapons Station.

3Georgia does not require the operator to be licensed to operate a "fully autonomous vehicle" when the "automated driving system" is engaged.

4Georgia does not require the operator to be in a "fully autonomous vehicle" when the "automated driving system" is engaged.

5The amount of liability insurance must be equivalent to 250 percent of what is required under existing insurance law until December 31, 2019. On and after January 1, 2020, the amout of liability insurance must be equivalent to the minimum required under existing insurance law.

6Michigan authorizes testing of any "automated motor vehicle" and deployment of "on-demand automated motor vehicle networks".

7Nevada does not require the operator to be licensed to operate a "fully autonomous vehicle" if it can achieve "a minimal risk condition" in the event of a failure.

8Nevada does not require the operator to be in a "fully autonomous vehicle" if it can achieve "a minimal risk condition" in the event of a failure.

9A company or person seeking to test must have $5,000,000 of liability insurance; an "autonomous vehicle network company" must have $1,500,000.

10North Carolina does not require the operator to be licensed to operate a "fully autonomous vehicle" when the "automated driving system" is engaged.