The US legal system allowing states to regulate their own roads has been an important element in securing the US lead in the autonomous vehicle (AV) technology race. In July 2019, Florida became the sixth US state to legalize vehicle teleoperation — a technology that enables a human operator to control vehicles from far away. By legalizing teleoperation, Florida provides companies with the regulation they need to test and develop AVs, while competing with other states that also allow for it.
Regulation often lags behind technology. In heavily regulated settings such as the automotive field, this lag can stifle innovation. The US has an advantage — a competitive legal market that allows states to compete on regulation in order to attract companies to set up shop, create jobs and spearhead innovation. This provides the US with an additional edge over countries with a single market for regulation such as Germany, Korea and China.
Recently, the Washington Post provided a bleak picture of the current status of AV technology. The piece reflects a growing consensus in the industry that, for the foreseeable future, human intervention will be required to enable AV operation. The main hindrances to commercial AV deployment are edge cases — mundane situations such as road construction, fallen trees and police officers guiding traffic. While simple to navigate for most humans, these edge cases present an insurmountable challenge to AV technology. In the last year, teleoperation has been gaining popularity as an essential enabler that will allow AVs to be deployed at scale without the need to assign a safety driver to each one of them. Through teleoperation, a human can remotely intervene, provide a solution to the edge case and allow the AV to continue autonomously.
Companies such as Nissan, GM/Cruise, Toyota, Aptiv, Waymo, Zoox and Ottopia are all developing or exploring teleoperation solutions. However, without regulation legalizing its use, testing and development will be severely restricted.
This is where the US’s competitive regulation system provides the agility that few other nations can match. So far, Arizona, California, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas, and most recently Florida have all legalized teleoperation. Other states including Georgia, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina and Tennessee already have laws allowing the use of teleoperation. Combined, the US is leading the world with eleven states where teleoperation is legal. Compare that to the legal situation outside of the US, where only five other countries have been able to devise legislation on teleoperation — specifically Canada (Ontario), Japan, Finland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
The United States is the global leader in autonomous vehicle technology. Its competitive regulation market is an important element in securing that position.