Autonomous cars are on everyone’s mind these days — for both good and bad reasons. While it may seem like many of the biggest names in the industry — Google, Tesla, Uber, etc. — are located in the United States, North America is actually lagging behind when it comes to autonomous car regulations and legislation. Is Europe outpacing North America when it comes to self-driving cars, or can the states-based companies catch up with the rest of the world?
A Checkerboard of Rules
Legislation and regulations are primarily what is holding North America back when it comes to autonomous car development. The United Kingdom and Germany in Europe, as well as South Korea and Singapore in Asia, have all already passed legislation that allows new autonomous cars to be tested on public roads. France enacted similar legislation back in 2016. They amended that legislation in 2018 to finally get autonomous cars on French roads by 2019. They also are planning to have a complete legislative framework in place to allow for use of autonomous vehicles on public roads by consumers by 2022.
The US federal government left the responsibility of legislating self-driving cars up to the individual state. This leaves car manufactures having to navigate 50 different laws before they can test their vehicles on public roads. The Bloomberg New Energy Finance report dubbed it a “checkerboard of state rules.”
Levels of Autonomy
Right now, most commercially available cars that have any sort of self-driving capacity are classified as Level 3 Autonomy. These cars can drive themselves under certain circumstances but require regular driver interaction and driver control.
In comparison — a manually driven car is considered to be Level 0. Levels 1 and 2 include things like cruise control, parking assistance, lane correction and automatic braking.
Level 4 autonomy means the car will be able to drive itself under most circumstances but will still have a steering wheel in case the driver needs to take over. The Holy Grail of self-driving cars is Level 5 autonomy — cars that are so capable of driving themselves that they no longer need a steering wheel.
Currently, there are four cities in the UK that are allowing self-driving tests on public roads. The UK government is working toward widespread adoption of autonomous technology by 2021. France is planning to allow testing on a case-by-case basis, as is Germany. Cars in Germany are required to be equipped with a ‘black box’ data recorder in case of accidents. Unlike many other countries, Germany considers the carmaker responsible in the event of a self-driving car accident.
In the United States, only two states — California and Arizona — allow autonomous cars to be tested without drivers on public roads. The Autonomous Vehicle Start Act was supposed to allow self-driving car testing across state lines. It was blocked in the Senate in February 2018 with three legislators placing holds on the bill. They put forward safety concerns and changes needed before it could be brought to the floor for a vote.
North America has a lot of work to do to catch up with the rest of the world when it comes to autonomous vehicle testing, but they’re not out of the race yet. As it stands, though, Europe and Asia are definitely out ahead.