Presented by
Protocol's experts on the biggest questions in tech.

What regulatory change would have the biggest impact on the autonomous vehicles space?

What regulatory change would have the biggest impact on the autonomous vehicles space?

Regulatory standardization and more profitable vehicle testing procedures are among the areas highlighted by members of Protocol's Braintrust.

John Rich

CTO at Ford AV LLC

Self-driving vehicles have the potential to help transform people's lives in meaningful ways. To ensure that innovation and investment continues to flourish in the U.S., we must move quickly to develop a regulatory framework that not only addresses testing of these new technologies, but also encourages large-scale implementation. Self-driving legislation should focus on three primary elements:

  • Revised federal rule-making to provide a regulatory framework for large-scale deployment of these vehicles;
  • Exemptions for testing and deployment of these vehicles until such rule-making is promulgated.
  • Ensuring clear division among federal, state and local government roles in regulating these vehicles.

Regulations should also concentrate on what the Society of Automotive Engineers has defined as L3 through L5 levels of automation as L1 and L2 levels are currently accommodated by existing regulations.

Continued collaboration with Congress, NGOs, the administration, industry partners and trade associations will help us achieve our common goals of a safer and more efficient mobility future.

Alex Rodrigues

CEO at Embark Trucks

Autonomous trucks will make roads safer, goods cheaper, and the movement of goods faster. Yet unlocking the potential of autonomous trucks requires a regulatory approach that acknowledges the interstate nature of this technology.

Compared to passenger car operation primarily regulated by states, much more of the trucking industry is regulated federally, such as licensing, inspections and hours of service. This is for good reason: Having rules change every time trucks cross state lines would create confusion and reduce efficiency. Federal rules ensure trucks move freely within the country to keep the American economy running at full speed.

Unfortunately, a web of differing state rules for autonomous trucks could slow the realization of safety benefits to public roads and efficiency benefits to industries relying on trucking, from agriculture and manufacturing to retail and energy.

Take for example the I-10 corridor, stretching from California to Florida and responsible for $1.38 trillion in economic impact. An autonomous truck traveling the I-10 encounters a constantly shifting set of rules as it moves from state to state. And that truck would have to stop when it reaches California, since California's DMV hasn't yet updated its rules to allow operation of autonomous heavy trucks despite a 2012 legislative mandate to do so and massive growth and investment in such vehicles.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration should continue to exert federal leadership on automated trucking, building off of its landmark AV 3.0 guidance issued in 2018. And states should ensure their AV rules do not interfere with interstate commerce, including autonomous trucks.

John McNelis

Chair, Autonomous Transportation and Shared Mobility Practice at Fenwick & West

Two regulatory changes that will have a large impact on the development of autonomous vehicle technology and on the expansion of the industry are (1) allowing the charging of fees for transporting members of the public and (2) clarification of liability.

Many people are looking forward to owning an autonomous vehicle. They aspire to getting into an autonomous vehicle, telling the vehicle where to go, and arriving at the destination. While this may eventually happen, the expense of building an autonomous vehicle is significant; the hardware and software costs of an autonomous vehicle is estimated to exceed $100,000. This does not even account for manufacturing and R&D expenses. While costs will decrease over time, the cost of purchasing an autonomous vehicle will not be realistic for most people in the next 15 years.

Given the prohibitive cost of individual ownership, the early use of autonomous vehicles will be robo-taxis (self-driving taxis). However, current regulations in many states do not allow for a company to charge fees for transporting members of the public in an autonomous vehicle. While this allows the state to control the testing of autonomous vehicles, it also means that the business plan viability of robo-taxis is speculative. The autonomous vehicle industry will expand significantly when states allow companies to charge fees for transporting members of the public since the ability to generate revenue will entice more companies to expedite their research and development to develop a working robo-taxi.

Another regulatory change that will expand the industry is to provide clarity on liability issues. While owners of vehicles will continue to need insurance for claims against failing to maintain the vehicle, mere passengers who have no control over the operation of the vehicle should not need insurance. Companies like certainty. So, if state laws move from a driver negligence model to a no-fault or strict liability model where the autonomous vehicle manufacturer and supply chain are presumed to be at fault for any accident that is not solely the result of an owner failing to maintain the vehicle, it will allow manufacturers to build-in liability costs when pricing vehicles.

Xantha Bruso

Manager, Autonomous Vehicle Strategy at A3 Ventures at AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah

There are multiple issues that the industry needs to resolve before widespread AV deployment. Given AAA's focus on road safety, I would like to highlight one aspect of what the industry should do to advance safety.

To start, there needs to be standardization of what defines a safe AV. There is no common framework that the industry can use to run their technology through given the variability of scenarios. The work we are doing with SafetyPool, a scenario testing data-sharing consortium, will allow companies to see the various scenarios and outcomes other partners have experienced.

Also, the International Alliance for Testing and Standardization, of which we are also a member, will be working toward a standardized approach for testing AVs. In addition, we are participating with the World Economic Forum and other stakeholders on the Safe Drive Initiative, which is developing a data-driven, scenario-based assessment using a graduated approach that will allow regulators to independently assess the safety of an AV system. We believe increased collaboration between AV companies and a diverse range of stakeholders is needed to work toward the common goal of roadway safety.

Kevin Vosen

Chief Legal Officer at Waymo

Increasing the harmonization of new regulatory expectations across jurisdictions for operating on public roads is one area that would have great impact in advancing the development and deployment of fully autonomous technology without human drivers. Many U.S. states, including Arizona and Texas where Waymo operates, have adopted regulatory frameworks that strike a balance of allowing autonomous technology to develop and scale, while also protecting public safety.

Having a thorough understanding of the capabilities of today's automated driving systems at various levels of automation — Levels 1 through 5 as outlined by SAE — is necessary for officials to achieve that important regulatory balance.

To ensure a safe and consistent regulatory approach as autonomous technology scales, we collaborate closely with regulators so they have a deep awareness of the different levels of automation and Waymo's Level 4 fully autonomous technology.

See who's who in Protocol's Braintrust (updated Oct. 7, 2020).

Questions, comments or suggestions? Email

More from Braintrust
Latest Stories