MACo Submits County Concerns on Autonomous & Connected Vehicles

MACo submitted written testimony highlighting county issues with autonomous and connected vehicles at a 2016-09-20 briefing of the Joint Committee on Cybersecurity, Information Technology, and Biotechnology. The Joint Committee also heard testimony from Maryland’s Autonomous and Connected Vehicle Working Group, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the automotive industry. An autonomous vehicle is a vehicle that can control itself for short or extended periods of time, or does not need a driver at all. A connected vehicle is plugged into a network or other information system and can relay information and possibly receive commands through this system.

Motor Vehicle Administrator Christine Nizer discussed the activities of the Working Group, stressing that “safety is a key priority for us.” She stated the Working Group has prepared recommendations on how to move forward with fully autonomous and connected vehicles, but are waiting the guidance from NHTSA.

The NHTSA representative announced that the guidance has just been released and covers four primary areas: (1) the human/machine interface (including fail safes, data collection and privacy, etc.); (2) state model deployment (a consistent set of requirements for automotive manufacturers to follow); (3) how NHTSA will use its existing regulatory tools to assist with the transition process; and (4) potential new authority MHTSA may seek from Congress.

Renee Gibson, representing the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers expressed support for the NHTSA’s guidance approach as the technology for autonomous and connected vehicles is rapidly changing.

In its written testimony, MACo outlined three key areas: (1) planning and infrastructure; (2) law enforcement and training; and (3) liability. MACo also stressed the importance of having county representatives participate in the State’s oversight process moving forward. From MACo’s testimony:

Planning and Infrastructure

County land use and road planning will likely change as a result of fully autonomous and connected vehicles. Autonomous vehicles will present county planners and engineers with more mobility options, increased traffic efficiency, and fewer accidents. However, road infrastructure will have to change to reflect the need for clear road markings and signage to allow autonomous vehicles to properly navigate. This will be a challenge as counties are struggling with even basic road maintenance due to the current level of Highway User Revenue funding.

Even more challenging will be the implementation of any information technology (IT) infrastructure needed to enable connected vehicles. Creating a working and secure network of sensors and relays throughout a county will be beyond the fiscal and engineering means of most jurisdictions.

Law Enforcement and Training

Autonomous and connected vehicles will require changes to current traffic laws and the way they are enforced. Many current laws center on the actions of a human driver and will need to be re-tailored to accommodate autonomous vehicles.

For example, is someone who is drunk or impaired still subject to the relevant traffic law if their car is actually doing the driving? What about cell phone usage or texting? Can someone sleep while being driven by an autonomous vehicle? What about underage, elderly, or medically impaired passengers who could not qualify for a driver’s license or otherwise drive? When an accident happens with an autonomous vehicle, is the vehicle or the human passenger at fault? If there is no human passenger at all, is the car at fault? How would points and fines be assessed in such a situation?

Connected vehicles will likely have the ability to be manipulated remotely. Would a law enforcement agency have the authority to remotely order a suspect vehicle to automatically pull over or shut down? Would the processes for identifying vehicles or tracking their location change?

Any changes to law enforcement practices will also require the (potentially extensive) retraining of law enforcement personnel.

Liability

Counties are concerned about liability for both infrastructure and county-owned vehicles. Clear rules are needed for liability regarding road infrastructure (for autonomous vehicles) and IT infrastructure (for connected vehicles). Otherwise, a county will often find itself the subject of “faulty infrastructure” claims as a result of its financial resources. Furthermore, what are the reasonable steps a county should take to not be legally liable if a connected vehicle is “hacked” through a county network? Remote vehicle hacking has already occurred and fully connected vehicles will have many more access points against which an attack can be launched.

There also needs to be clarity about the liability of county-owned fully autonomous vehicles that cause an accident or injury. What is the appropriate standard of care a vehicle owner must follow to not be liable? Finally, how will insurance coverage function for autonomous and connected vehicles?

The Joint Committee also heard testimony on digital equity in public schools and the use of open source digital textbooks in colleges (leading to the elimination of physical textbooks).

Useful Links

MACo Testimony on Autonomous and Connected Vehicles

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Autonomous & Connected Vehicles

 

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