Women in Autonomy's second event, Rules of the Road, took place on another warm evening in downtown San Francisco. This time, the panel discussion focused on the regulatory environment governing autonomous vehicles and featured: Xantha Bruso, Autonomous Vehicle Policy Manager at AAA Northern California, Nevada and Utah; Holly Gordon, Head of Policy at Ike Robotics; and Candice Plotkin, Lead Counsel, Regulatory Policy, Government Affairs at Cruise. The panel was moderated by Michele Kyrouz, host of the "Smarter Cars" podcast.
The panel began with our moderator, Michele, asking each of our panelists to tell us a bit about their companies. Candice started off by telling us about Cruise’s autonomous vehicle program and the service they plan to offer. Currently, Cruise is using a version of a vehicle with traditional controls, but they are seeking exemption from NHTSA to use a vehicle without a steering wheel or manual controls. Cruise's goal is to one day offer an autonomous ride sharing service in urban areas, like Uber or Lyft, starting in California.
On the other hand, Ike is developing autonomous trucking technology. According to Holly, Ike is building trucking automation technology that will allow existing trucks to drive on highways without a human driver. How they will implement that model is through a transfer hub, which means that the automated truck will exit the highway and will immediately be handed off to a manual tractor (i.e. human drivers).
And how has AAA been involved in the shift towards autonomous vehicles? Xantha spoke about how the company was founded over 100 years ago with the commitment to help the motoring public travel safely, and is continuing that mission with autonomous vehicles. Over 90% of vehicle crashes are attributed to human error, so AVs have the potential to save millions of lives. But AAA wants to make sure that the technology is safe before it's deployed on public roads, so they've gone into the AV space with some initiatives, including investing in GoMentum Station and consumer education and policy advocacy.
After that, the discussion quickly turned towards regulation. Michele asked: "We often hear that there is no federal regulation of autonomous vehicles and instead, we have a patchwork of states each making their own rules for AVs. How does it work with federal and state regulators, and when are states preempted from making rules on car safety?"
Candice replied by stating that the federal government has the ability to regulate the vehicle itself, and as a result of that, they have the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) that regulates everything from placement of the steering wheel to the brake pedals, and, in that way, anything that the federal government exclusively governs, the states don't have the ability to do so. In contrast, at the state level, you traditionally see states regulating rules of the road, driver licensing, and insurance. The grey area in this space is that there isn't an FMVSS equivalent with respect to the autonomous driving system. So, in that situation, we hope to see this sort of regulation at the federal level because we don't want to see a patchwork of different regulations between the various states. But because the federal government hasn't acted yet, it's possible that the states could enter that field.
What about Congress? There were efforts to pass legislation on autonomous vehicles. What happened there? Candice replied that there was an effort with the AV START Act, but there weren't sufficient votes in the Senate. But Congressional Legislation would be a way to preempt the states. So NHTSA could either issue regulations under certain time frames and alter the standards that they already have, or Congress could act. But the likelihood that an AV bill would pass this session is not high.
So what has the federal government done to address autonomous vehicles? Xantha said that what the US DOT has done thus far is issue three sets of guidelines on autonomous vehicles, which are non-prescriptive and entirely voluntary. They encourage things like automakers submitting safety self-assessments and outline different best practices. But what AAA has said is that the DOT should move forward to establish regulations for AVs in the form of FMVSS and provide guidance through that process.
It was noted however, that decision making at the federal level is not keeping pace with how fast the technology is developing and that technology is advancing much faster than regulation.
Meanwhile, we learned that trucking is regulated by two federal agencies: NHTSA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which regulates the operation of commercial vehicles. Ike has been more focused on the FMCSA side of regulation because NHTSA regulates the equipment of the vehicle, such as the removal of the steering wheel or mirrors, and Ike is not looking to change that in their trucks.
In the absence of federal regulations, states have not been preempted from passing laws governing AVs. From the industry perspective, what does it mean to have 48 states making different rules for AVs? Candice admits that the patchwork of regulation is challenging, and that it's not good for the industry to have a lot of variation and experimentation across the country. "If you want to scale a business and build a system that you can export to multiple locations, it's far better to have uniformity. Luckily, there's uniformity with respect to the structure of the car, but we also want to see uniformity with respect to any standards set."
Xantha thinks that, ultimately, there should be harmonization between the different levels of government and jurisdictions so there's more regulatory certainty and clarity for companies that are developing and deploying AV technology. But, given that we've also seen that it's going to take a while for federal standards to get developed, states do have the ability to take approaches to regulating the testing and the deployment of vehicles. So far, there are 29 states and DC that have legislation related to AVs, but some of these are just "enabling" legislating. Only a few states have specific requirements for permitting and registration of the vehicles. But mainly, this comprises of self-certification or self-attestation by the companies to say that they can operate within those states.
What about testing autonomous trucks in different states? How do those laws compare? Holly says that it's different for Ike because they will be launching, initially, in one state and in one freight lane. So while they would like to have uniformity at the federal level, it isn't problematic for them at the moment. Eventually, Ike will launch in more freight lanes and in more states.
Other topics covered included: rules in various states and cities that govern ride share services like Uber and Lyft, the CPUC, how state regulation (California, Texas, Florida, etc.) varies, safety and testing, and displacement of workers (such as taxi and truck drivers).
All too soon, it was time to open up the discussion to audience Q&A. One attendee asked about policy related to governing human interactions with AVs, while another asked about safety metrics.
To wrap up the evening, we took another lovely group photo with our panelists, moderator, and attendees!
All in all, the evening was another huge success! We're looking forward to reconvening in the New Year at our next event, which will be a panel discussion about Smart Cities on January 23, 2020 - hosted by Arup. Check back with us soon for more information about the event, panelists, and how to RSVP!
See you in 2020!
To view the Rules of the Road panel discussion in its entirety, check out our YouTube page.