Self-driving cars are generating more buzz than ever before. The widespread use of self-driving cars may be right around the corner.
Inevitably, new technology means new laws. With the advent of the world wide web came cyberspace laws, governing a range of issues including digital privacy. As the cell phone became more popular, states scrambled to regulate distracted driving. No doubt, self-driving cars will also see their own body of legislation develop as driverless vehicles take to the streets.
In the previous part of our series “The Future of Self-Driving Cars in South Carolina”, we discussed the evolution of self-driving vehicles as the latest development in the history of the automobile. It explored levels of self-driving technology, vehicle safety measures and the current status of technology from various American automotive manufacturers.
This part examines the legality of self-driving cars. It looks at legislation on a state and federal level, examining South Carolina and other state regulations in-depth. It discusses new developments in South Carolina including a new facility and testing track.
Legality of Self-Driving Cars
Most states have taken steps to regulate self-driving cars. However, none has outright banned the technology. In short, self-driving cars are legal in the United States.
Are self-driving cars legal in South Carolina?
While they are regulated, self-driving cars are legal in South Carolina and all 50 states. There is no federal or state law in the United States that completely bans self-driving cars.
South Carolina Self-Driving Car Laws
Technically, you could say that South Carolina has ventured into automated vehicle legislation. However, the legislation is extremely minor and only addresses one facet of their use – to allow truck platooning for commercial vehicles without mandatory distance between vehicles. For the most part, self-driving cars remain unregulated in the state.
Does South Carolina have self-driving car laws?
Yes. South Carolina has enacted legislation regulating self-driving cars. However, the law pertains only to exempting commercial vehicles using automated driving technology and traveling in a series of commercial vehicles from laws regulating distance between vehicles.
What is the South Carolina law about self-driving cars?
South Carolina Code § 56-5-1930 prohibits a vehicle from following another more closely than is reasonable and prudent. Sufficient space between vehicles is required for overtaking vehicles.
However, the law exempts some automated driving technology from the space requirement. The exception is extremely limited – only nonleading commercial motor vehicles following Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations traveling in a series (also known as truck platooning) are exempt from the law.
Distance Maintained Between Vehicles on Highway, Enacted by the South Carolina General Assembly, effective May 19, 2017.
South Carolina laws regarding automated vehicles and truck platooning
Automated driving technology essentially makes a cameo in South Carolina law in its current state. Truck platooning is allowed because it increases fuel efficiency by reducing drag. The practice is very much a part of automated driver technology, using sensors between vehicles to maintain distance and maximize efficiencies.
Are self-driving cars banned in South Carolina?
No. There is currently no law prohibiting self-driving cars from operating in South Carolina.
In truth, state law has little to say about driverless cars. Outside of commercial vehicles operating in tandem with driverless technology, there is currently no regulation for or against them.
Federal Self-Driving Car Laws
Are there federal laws about self-driving cars?
Currently, there are no federal laws regulating self-driving cars. At the federal level, there are only guidelines.
Federal regulations about self-driving cars
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has published voluntary guidance regarding the design of self-driving cars. The stated purpose is to assist designers in promoting safety and other best practices. Currently, the guidelines are voluntary – they cannot be enforced, and compliance is not required.
Published federal guidelines include:
- Adopting best practices and standards available from other industries including aviation, space and the military
- Redundancies should be considered for technology malfunctions and communication failures
- Measurable testing should be conducted; design decisions should be validated
- Design choices, testing and data should be tracked and traceable
- Boundaries for capability limits should be documented in the Operational Design Domain (ODD) including roadway types, geographic area, speed range, environmental conditions and other constraints
- Process for assessment of crash avoidance design choices including control loss, crossing path, lane changes, head-on dangers, rear-end and backing and parking
- Identifying malfunctions and circumstances when a self-driving car cannot operate safely and determining how to minimize risk with fallback approaches
- Testing, including simulation, test track and on-road testing
- Robust cybersecurity measures
- Occupant protection
- Post-crash behavior and communications
- Data recording
At first glance, it may seem like NHTSA has a great deal to say about automated driverless technology. However, these guidelines are quite general, identifying broad areas that manufacturers need to consider.
In fact, NHTSA recognizes its limited role as a regulator of national transportation infrastructure, interstate motor carriers and commercial vehicle drivers. They say that states are the appropriate authority to license drivers, enforce traffic laws and register vehicles within their jurisdictions.
Proposed Legislation for Self-Driving Cars in the United States
In 2017, Senator John Thune sponsored the AV START Act to regulate the development of automated vehicles. The bill was read, referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar.
In August, 2022, Representatives Robert Latta and Debbie Dingell announced a bipartisan effort to create the Congressional Autonomous Vehicle Caucus. Their purpose is to educate lawmakers so that they are well-prepared to legislate in the field.
Federal regulations regarding car parts and accessories
Development of driverless technology may lead to the relaxing of some motor vehicle rules and regulations, particularly those pertaining to parts and accessories required for operation. For example, 49 CFR § 393.209 creates requirements for steering wheels. These requirements may no longer be needed or practical with automated technology in control.
In fact, General Motors and Ford have asked regulators to exempt them in part from certain technologies relating to human operation. These exemptions are to deploy ride sharing and delivery vehicles. The sought exemptions are not for consumer sales. Manufacturers say that steering wheels, mirrors, turn signals and windshield wipers are not needed for these vehicles.
On the contrary, they say active driving controls would make the vehicles more dangerous. As automated vehicles develop, and as manufacturers create new commercial uses for them, regulators will continue to address these issues and serve as decision-makers for the industry.
(See also NHTSA 49 CFR § 571, Occupant Protection for Vehicles with Automated Driving Systems)
State Self-Driving Car Legislation
Although the federal government has yet to regulate driverless cars, many states have attempted to fill the void.
As of September 2022, 35 states have enacted legislation regarding autonomous vehicles. (National Conference of State Legislatures, Autonomous Vehicles | Self-Driving Vehicles Enacted Legislation). Ten states have regulations that exist via executive order. Five states have both legislative and executive orders. Ten states and U.S. territories have no laws or regulations governing autonomous vehicles.
Many of these regulations go far beyond the minimal legislation in South Carolina.
For example, Nevada has an entire chapter of state law devoted to autonomous vehicles – Nevada Revised Statutes Chapter 482A. The legislation dates to 2011. The law defines autonomous vehicles and automated driving systems.
At the heart of Nevada law are requirements for human operators in autonomous vehicle testing, and insurance requirements for vehicle testing in the state. Manufacturer and developer liability for crashes involving third-party modified vehicles is limited by law. Crash reporting is required, and civil and criminal penalties are authorized for certain violations.
Like South Carolina, Nevada allows driver-assisted platooning, with regulations. (N.R.S. 482A.075).
Florida is another state with comparatively robust autonomous vehicle laws. These laws are found in Florida Statutes § 316.85. The law begins by saying that self-driving cars are legal: “A human operator is not required to operate a fully autonomous vehicle” as defined by law. (§ 316.85(1); § 316.003(3), defining an autonomous vehicle as any vehicle equipped with an automated driving system).
The law states that an engaged automated driving system is considered the operator even when a person is physically present in the vehicle. Other motor vehicle laws may not be construed to require a human operator, if the vehicle is fully autonomous.
Where vehicles are used for transportation network companies, other laws that pertain to them still apply.
Florida law says that the legislative goal is to have uniform laws throughout the state. There are prohibitions on the local imposition of taxes and fees on autonomous vehicle use for passenger transportation services, except airport or seaport facility use fees. Local regulators may create staging locations for autonomous vehicle use at airports and seaports.
Nevada and Florida are two states with detailed laws regarding autonomous vehicles. Even among them, there are significant differences. Other states also have their own regulatory systems, and these systems are different too.
For example, an Arizona executive order directs agencies to support driverless technology operation, creating an oversight committee in the governor’s office. Automated systems in the state must comply with safety standards.
In Massachusetts, an executive order created a working group to propose legislation and agreements negotiated with the input of industry leaders.
Ohio’s executive order requires company registration and the submission of certain information for testing within the state.
In Texas, the owner of the automated system is the driver for traffic compliance issues, even if the person is not physically present in the vehicle. (See Texas Transportation Code § 545.453)
The Future of Federal and State Laws for Autonomous Driving Vehicles
State laws vary significantly in not only what topics are addressed, but also the extent and way these topics are regulated. Likely, perhaps out of necessity, federal law will preempt the myriad of state laws that have developed surrounding driverless cars.
For now, each state may decide how to regulate – or choose not to regulate – within their boundaries.
Automated Driver Technology Comes to South Carolina
Argo AI is relying on South Carolina to develop its autonomous vehicle technology. They intend to begin operations shortly with a new test track and engineering facilities at the International Transportation Innovation Center SC Technology and Aviation Center (SCTAC) Greenville campus. Company leaders say the area is ideal for the testing facility because of its leadership in technological innovation.
The facility was a $2.6 million investment for Argo. Along with it comes 40 new jobs to Greenville County. Jobs vary in education requirements, and employees may train to operate and maintain autonomous vehicles.
Argo maintains testing facilities in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Munich, Germany. The Greenville, SC facility will conduct high-speed testing, complete with a one-mile straightaway that can test operations up to 70 miles per hour.
Argo AI is headquartered in Pennsylvania. The company develops and builds self-driving products with a stated mission to make the world’s roads safe and accessible for all.
Public Perception and the Acceptance of Self-Driving Cars
If driverless technology is to continue to develop, it must do so while navigating the laws, orders and guidance that exists on multiple levels in the United States.
However, actionable laws are not the only thing necessary to usher in the new era of driving technology. Artificial intelligence operators must also win over public perception. Negative news reports may scare the public, while they receive little information on the potential of these vehicles to improve transportation safety. (90% of crashes are caused by human error, NHTSA, Avoiding crashes with self-driving cars).
Along with winning over the public with the safety and convenience of driverless cars, sellers must also convince the public that it is worth the cost. The technology comes with a price, although experts say that costs are expected to decline in coming decades.
As manufacturers continue to pursue the potential in self-driving vehicles, they must address legal issues, costs and public perception to make their technology a commercial success.
Legal Issues and the Future of Self-Driving Cars
Driverless cars have great potential to improve vehicle transportation, making it safer and more accessible. Laws will continue to develop in response to this technology. In turn, the laws will determine how the technology develops.
New legal issues will arise. Will vehicle occupants or owners receive tickets if traffic violations occur? How will personal injury laws respond to these new vehicles, especially in the absence of statutes addressing legal liability? Will insurance requirements change?
Our lawyers will continue to monitor these developments as we are committed to a thorough understanding of the law as we advocate for individuals and families.
In the final part of our series, we’ll conclude our discussion on self-driving cars in South Carolina and their foreseen impact on personal injury law. Stay tuned!