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Uniform Law Commission Can Improve Uniform Automated Operation of Vehicles Act

After two years of work, last week the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) published its model state legislation on automated vehicles. By and large, ULC’s Uniform Automated Operation of Vehicles Act is a very positive step in the right direction. It makes sensible recommendations to ensure national uniformity while providing states sufficient flexibility to make tweaks that best fit their residents. Certainly, this model act is a major improvement to the ULC’s initial effort, on which CEI submitted strong criticism in 2015 urging the ULC to hit the reset button, which it ultimately did.

That being said, I would caution states against adopting the ULC’s latest model bill until two significant problems are addressed.

First, Section 6 on automated driving providers appears to unnecessarily limit fleet ownership and management. To qualify as an automated driving provider, a person would need to meet one of three requirements:

  1. “have participated in a substantial manner in the development of an automated driving system”
  2. “have submitted to the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration a safety self-assessment or equivalent report for the automated driving system as required or permitted by the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,” or
  3. “be registered as a manufacturer of motor vehicles or motor vehicle equipment under the requirements of the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration”

While these would apply to most current players in the automated vehicle space, what of the potential business model whereby a fleet owner purchases or leases vehicles equipped with automated driving systems from a developer/manufacturer without being substantially involved in system/vehicle development?

This isn’t some far-fetched hypothetical. Existing rental car companies aren’t involved in the development or manufacturing of vehicles they purchase from automakers and many would like to continue their business models in a similar fleet-owning fashion once automated vehicles are available. This provision would effectively prohibit that from happening unless NHTSA was to develop regulations to explicitly grant permission to Avis or whomever. At best, this is the state policy tail wagging the federal policy dog and is likely to garner strong opposition.

The second problem is with what the ULC model act doesn’t do: explicitly preempt localities from regulating AVs in a manner that discriminates against AVs vis-à-vis traditional autos to avoid a patchwork of regulations. Fortunately, a growing number of states are opting to preempt localities from getting beyond their depth in AV policy. Several states have included preemption provisions in their comprehensive AV laws and in May, Oklahoma enacted legislation solely focused on the preemption issue. Admittedly, the ULC most likely intentionally avoided this issue because it is somewhat contentious.

Overall, the Uniform Automated Operation of Vehicles Act is a step in the right direction and I commend the ULC Automated Operation of Vehicles Act Committee’s hard and thoughtful work on this subject. Hopefully, ULC will continue to work to improve its AV policy recommendations and eventually arrive at uniform act that states should enact in its entirety.