Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
For all the concern over the patchwork of regulations governing AVs from state to state, a similar issue has been largely ignored: idiosyncratic road rules that vary not only state to state but also city to city.
Why it matters: Human drivers in an unfamiliar city will use their knowledge of familiar road rules to determine whether a right turn on red is allowed, for example. AV developers face a much bigger challenge: how to program self-driving software to ensure compliance when the rules of the road vary from one place to another.
Background: Currently, 29 states have passed some kind of legislation for self-driving cars, some more extensive than others.
- NHTSA recently encouraged states to pursue a "consistent regulatory and operational environment," warning that discrepancies between state and local laws lead to confusion and compliance challenges.
Reality check: There are already varying road rules for all road users, not only in all 50 states, but in thousands of cities.
- These variations are not insignificant; states differ, for example, on when vehicles must stop for school buses and how cars should make turns across bike lanes.
Where it stands: Right now, self-driving technology is being tested in limited jurisdictions, so companies can feasibly program rules for each municipality individually.
- As AV companies eventually expand to all 50 states and thousands of cities, that task will become much harder.
The bottom line: States, cities, and AV companies may eventually need to collaborate to standardize road rules, not just AV regulations.
Charity Allen is the head of regulatory counsel at Aurora.