SACRAMENTO, CA – State legislators in both California and New Jersey are now addressing regulatory issues associated with the testing and operation of so-called autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles on public roads.

The California Senate on May 21 approved a bill authorizing operation of autonomous vehicles on public roads by licensed drivers. The legislation, however, stipulates that the manufacturer of the technology must certify that the autonomous vehicle has a mechanism allowing the operator to easily engage and disengage the technology, and that the autonomous technology meets all applicable state and federal safety standards.

The California bill, introduced by Senator Alex Padilla, would also require that such a vehicle have a licensed driver in the driver’s seat during operation on a public road – at least until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adopts overriding federal-level safety policies for autonomous vehicles. In addition, the legislation would authorize two state departments – the California Highway Patrol and DMV – to jointly make recommendations on future regulation of such vehicles.

The bill’s text expresses the state’s desire to adopt policies that encourage development of technology using computers, sensors and other systems that permit “a motor vehicle to operate without the active control and continuous monitoring of a human operator.” The bill acknowledges the safety, mobility and commercial rewards that the technology might provide in the future.

The California State Assembly is expected to consider a companion bill next month.  

Meanwhile, across the nation, the New Jersey Legislature is considering a bill directing the state Motor Vehicle Commission to establish special licensing and insurance requirements for people operating autonomous vehicles on public roads. 

Last year, the Nevada Legislature passed a similar bill. Earlier this month, Nevada’s DMV approved Google's license application, and issued license plates, for test-driving autonomous vehicles on public roads. 

The New Jersey bill, sponsored by the General Assembly’s Democratic Deputy Majority Leader Annette Quijano, also directs the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission to set minimum safety standards for autonomous vehicles and establish restrictions for the testing of such vehicles. 

The bill defines an autonomous vehicle as a “motor vehicle that uses artificial intelligence, sensors, global positioning system coordinates, or any other technology to carry out the mechanical operations of driving without the active control and continuous monitoring of a human operator.”

Ongoing advances in autonomous vehicle technology continue to garner the attention of fleet professionals, safety advocates and the general driving public.

Last month, Cadillac announced it is road-testing a semi-autonomous technology called “Super Cruise” that is capable of fully automatic steering, braking and lane-centering in highway driving under certain optimal conditions. The system could be ready for production vehicles by mid-decade, according to General Motors.

In addition to the automakers, Google and Caltech are among the organizations involved in developing the technology, whose aim is to make vehicle travel safer by eliminating human error.

Arizona, Hawaii, Florida and Oklahoma are considering autonomous vehicle legislation as well.