Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed autonomous vehicle (AV) legislation on Thursday that ensures uniform regulations across the state and promises to bring critical testing and deployment to the Centennial State. Crucially, the law does not overregulate AV development, and Colorado has created a clear environment where self-driving cars do not face varying laws in different municipalities throughout the state. While federal government leadership is needed on this issue in order to avoid a patchwork of regulations throughout the country, states intent on legislating AVs would do well to follow Colorado’s example in the meantime.
While federal leadership is needed in order to avoid a patchwork of regulations throughout the country, states intent on legislating AVs would do well to follow Colorado’s example in the meantime.
“The regulation of automated driving systems is a matter of statewide concern, and, therefore, local authorities are prohibited from regulating these systems,” the law states. “The use of automated driving systems is authorized if the system is capable of conforming to every state and federal law applying to driving.”
The legislation highlights the urgency of accelerating innovation in this space for safety and social mobility benefits. It notes that 600 people died from car crashes in Colorado last year and some two million collisions occurred nationwide. The new technology holds the potential to reduce road deaths by more than 90 percent while also bringing increased mobility for Americans with disabilities and the elderly.
Besides the safety factors, the uniform regulation could help bring investment to Colorado—which is key given how quickly stakeholders are moving in this area.
Besides the safety factors, the uniform regulation could help bring investment to Colorado—which is key given how quickly stakeholders are moving in this area. This factor helped the legislation gain overwhelming support in both the House and Senate. “The testing and deployment of these technologies in Colorado will build on Colorado’s reputation as a hub for advanced technologies,” the legislative declaration states. The transition to AVs has spurred high-stakes competition among automobile and tech companies, all of which want to be first movers in the space. For them, uniformity and clarity of regulation is critical, and federal preemption remains the clearest path toward smooth AV development. Laws in other states have caused controversy. In Michigan, for example, experts believe that the state’s AV legislation distorted the playing field with language that excluded certain developers from testing in the state. California requires permitting, extensive data reporting, and a licensed driver behind the wheel.
As of now, a dozen states have passed AV laws, with many others having considered enacting legislation. Despite Colorado’s positive example, without a consistent federal framework, state-to-state differences could significantly slow testing and deployment of autonomous technology. A consistent and open regulatory environment, such as the one modeled in Colorado, can foster accelerated adoption of autonomous technology and progress toward a transportation system with greater efficiency and fuel diversity.