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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.

Go deeper

USAID chief tests positive for coronavirus

An Air Force cargo jet delivers USAID supplies to Russia earlier this year. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images

The acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development informed senior staff Wednesday he has tested positive for coronavirus, two sources familiar with the call tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Barsa, who staffers say rarely wears a mask in their office, is the latest in a series of senior administration officials to contract the virus. His positive diagnosis comes amid broader turmoil at the agency following the election.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
3 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 shows a bright future for vaccines

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Promising results from COVID-19 vaccine trials offer hope not just that the pandemic could be ended sooner than expected, but that medicine itself may have a powerful new weapon.

Why it matters: Vaccines are, in the words of one expert, "the single most life-saving innovation ever," but progress had slowed in recent years. New gene-based technology that sped the arrival of the COVID vaccine will boost the overall field, and could even extend to mass killers like cancer.

5 hours ago - Health

Beware a Thanksgiving mirage

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Don't be surprised if COVID metrics plunge over the next few days, only to spike next week.

Why it matters: The COVID Tracking Project warns of a "double-weekend pattern" on Thanksgiving — where the usual weekend backlog of data is tacked on to a holiday.