- A new report from the National League of Cities (NLC) finds that more than half of America’s large cities are getting ready for autonomous vehicles (AVs) by running pilots or passing new policy, up from less than 10% three years ago.
- Between 2011 and 2017, NLC found that 22 states had passed 46 bills related to AVs, in addition to five executive orders signed by governors to encourage their development. Another 28 states have introduced, debated or passed 98 bills around AVs in 2018.
- Based on cities’ successful experiences, NLC recommends that governments engage with the private sector, state government, think tanks, advocacy groups, consulting firms, tech developers and research universities. The group also recommends cities join or create a regional alliance to help manage the new technology, and pursue a "phased in" pilot plan.
Although the federal government has been making moves to ease up regulations and encourage testing of AVs, NLC’s report says "the action with autonomous vehicles is decidedly taking place on the ground at the local level." With cities launching pilots in cooperation with auto and tech companies — often with the support of states — local streets are the best venue for people to see how AV regulation will work, especially with federal legislation stymied in Congress.
A major theme NLC identified among the state legislation was preemption. Five states — Georgia, Illinois, Texas, Tennessee and Nevada — passed laws that explicitly prevent local governments from prohibiting AV pilot programs (others have subtler measures that serve a similar purpose), and Indiana is also debating a preemption law. That’s on top of other states, like Arizona, that have gone out of their way to encourage AV companies to test in the state. The measures are meant to attract companies, and reduce barriers to testing.
The growth in cities enacting AV policies reflects just how rapidly the technology is coming online. The pilots have taken different forms, from carefully managed shuttle programs to allowing AVs to ride with little restriction. While the local pilots will offer significant insight into how AVs can fit into existing infrastructure and how cities will adapt, it’s also clear that safety concerns mean they’re not right for every government. It’s a phenomenon reflected across smart cities technology, where some cities may feel better equipped to adopt new, unfamiliar technology, while others want to go slower.
For example, Shonte Eldridge, deputy chief of operations for the city of Baltimore, said at Smart Cities Week that her city needs to go slower. "Autonomous vehicles? That's great for California,” she said. “I am nowhere near ready to roll out autonomous vehicles in Baltimore City.”