Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


John Mollenkopf

Subject Categories

Commercial Law | Economic Policy | Government Contracts | Infrastructure | Legislation | Public Policy | Transportation | Transportation Law


Autonomous, Vehicles, Transit, Regulation, Future


Autonomous vehicle technology is poised to revolutionize transit around the world. There are currently tens of private companies either testing or building autonomous vehicles, including industry juggernauts like Ford and Google. This new mode of transportation falls into a regulatory grey area. Once cars reach full autonomy, governments will have to decide what entities will regulate them, where they will be allowed to drive, who will be responsible for them and a host of other issues. In some municipalities like San Francisco and Phoenix, autonomous vehicles (AVs) are being tested on public streets in real life conditions. Meanwhile, in 2017, 33 US states have released frameworks on how they believe AVs should operate in real world environments. There is broad consensus that AVs should be programmed to prioritize safety, but the details in each plan vary to accommodate the specific circumstances of different localities.

If AVs are indeed inevitable as urban planners and futurists believe they are, then we must completely rethink the way vehicles use the road. The introduction of autonomous vehicles could bring massive reductions in greenhouse emissions, more efficient land use due to the elimination of parking structures, less traffic, safer roads, and other benefits.

Without proper forethought and planning however, business as usual automotive policy could create impenetrable walls of autonomous vehicles on cities in highways for elite drivers and limit transit options for everyone else.

Examining existing US federal and state law has shown that the burden of regulating future autonomous vehicles is on the states. Some states already have regulations concerning the testing of autonomous vehicles on the books. The US federal government plays an advisory role only. Guided by best practice principles ratified at the Kaohsiung conference, states should develop frameworks to encourage and regulate autonomous vehicle testing to make sure that it is safe and accountable.