The United States is quickly shaping up to be the birthplace of commercialized autonomous driving. From the DARPA Urban Challenge to AV-focused highway infrastructure plans, the American landscape is full of potential. In recent years, autonomous technology has graduated from simulated, computer-based tests, to closed-course testing, all the way to public roads. We’re entering a new era of testing in autonomy that’s rooted in safe practices for drivers, passengers, and highway travelers alike.
With the help of several states in the U.S., the autonomous driving industry has expanded its ability to test out a multitude of climates, weather patterns, and more. At Torc, our self-driving semi-trucks have been tested on roads in Blacksburg, VA and Albuquerque, New Mexico – with plans to continue expanding beyond that. Whether it’s the mountain landscape of the Appalachians or the sunny side of Florida, locations across the United States have opened their doors to autonomy. So, which states allow autonomous driving?
The southern United States is a hotbed of activity for self-driving cars, autonomous 18-wheelers, and self-driving semi-trucks alike. The Sun Belt interstate, sometimes called the Sand State belt, is a perfect place for autonomous testing. This highway stretches from the west coast all the way through to Florida; it also ventures as far north as South Carolina, allowing vehicles to carry freight, passengers, and more across the country.
The Sun Belt stretch works so well for a number of reasons, starting with weather. Across the roads that make up this highway, sunny weather and mild rain is the norm. Snow is minimal, if it falls at all. These kinds of conditions are ideal for self-driving vehicles of any kind, especially as we look towards launching these semi-trucks and cars as safely as possible.
Because of this ideal weather, self-driving car and self-driving truck companies have teamed up with legislators to move testing from closed courses to public roads. Together, we’ve been able to work with state stakeholders to ensure that safe testing is at the forefront of these conversations. At Torc, we regularly test our autonomous 18-wheelers on both closed courses and public roads in both New Mexico and Virginia: two Sun Belt states where we’ve partnered with law enforcement, state officials, and transportation professionals alike to develop a self-driving future.
Out of all the states in the South, Florida was the first state to allow anyone with a valid driver’s license to operate an autonomous vehicle on public roads. Florida recently enacted legislation that means a driver does not need to be behind the wheel if the self-driving vehicle is SAE Level 4 or Level 5 capable. There are seven other states that have enacted similar policies, including Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Utah, and West Virginia. Other Southern states that have enacted legislation to allow autonomous vehicles to operate include Texas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi.
The Midwest is home to both autonomous legislation and a promising future in self-driving. Although its geography and climate makes it a challenging prospect for the initial autonomous roll-out, several states have set the stage for future tests of self-driving cars and self-driving 18-wheelers.
Nebraska and Oklahoma both have specific laws surrounding automated driving systems. In order to drive autonomously in the state of Nebraska, a vehicle must have fail-safe redundancies, it must obey all traffic laws, and operators must demonstrate financial responsibility for self-driving vehicles. In other words, a licensed driver must be behind the wheel at all times. Meanwhile, in Oklahoma and South Dakota, autonomous vehicle laws have been defined around the concept of platooning, self-driving freight vehicles. For instance, in Oklahoma, a long-haul autonomous truck that is following a lead truck does not need to keep any particular minimum distance away from its leader.
The East Coast is known for its soaring mountains, bustling city centers, and world-famous beaches. In the autonomous world, it’s also known for its forward-thinking lawmaking. Across these U.S. states, places like New York, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania have established legislation defining what testing and operating self-driving vehicles should look like within their borders.
And that’s not all that the East Coast has to offer the self-driving 18-wheeler world. In 2016, the governor of Massachusetts issued an executive order to facilitate the testing and operation of self-driving vehicles. New Jersey has also launched a task force to research the potential impact of self-driving cars, the infrastructure required, and more; New Hampshire has a similar program in the form of a Department of Safety initiative. Lastly, Connecticut has legislation that establishes procedures for testing self-driving cars in a few parts of the state.
On the West Coast, several states have opened the doors to the world of autonomy: Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and Oregon, are just a few of them. On this side of the States, we also get a broader picture of the autonomous driving industry’s roots. Arizona, for instance, was one of the first test sites for self-driving vehicles; this was set into place via an executive order in 2015, and has since been codified into law.
In the northernmost parts of the United States, the autonomous outlook features new challenges and supportive legislation in a few different states: Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Vermont, and Michigan all allow the operation and testing of self-driving vehicles under certain conditions.
For example, in Michigan, autonomous vehicles can only be operated without a human operator under very specific circumstances. Meanwhile, in Minnesota, self-driving vehicles may apply for permission to use a platooning system of self-driving vehicles. While there aren’t any self-driving car or self-driving truck laws in Illinois or Maine, there are initiatives in both states to promote autonomous vehicle testing in the state.
What About My State?
If your state wasn’t listed here, it’s probably because your state hasn’t enacted any legislation related to self-driving as of this article’s publication. However, laws are constantly changing – some rules surrounding autonomy are even municipality-dependent, so check in with your local offices if you’re curious about whether your state allows autonomous driving and autonomous trucking.