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Which states allow driverless cars?

Things to remember...
  • There is a zero to five rating system that indicates the levels of automation
  • The federal government recently passed a 15-point guideline for manufacturers
  • Ten states have already passed legislation for the operation of autonomous vehicles
  • States still require a driver’s license and proof of insurance

Have you ever wished that you could get in your car and let it do the driving for you? If you have, that futuristic fantasy is no longer so far out of reach. Experts are now anticipating an autonomous revolution in the next three to five years.

With nearly 35,000 traffic-related deaths in 2015 – an increase of 7.7 percent from 2014 – nearly 96 people died per day. 

According to an official from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly 90 percent of all traffic-related deaths are caused by human error.

With automated cars, we could be looking at saving thousands of lives, making for a much safer future.

An automated vehicle is a car that operates without direct driver input to control steering, acceleration, and braking. It is designed so that the driver is not expected to constantly monitor the road.

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How do you know which cars are autonomous?


There are ratings that define a vehicle’s level of automation. This zero to five rating system indicates the levels of automation – the higher the level, the more automated the vehicle is.

The NHTSA recently switched (Sept. 2016) from a Zero to Four Level rating system to the Society of Automotive Engineers’ (SAE) Zero to Five Level rating scale. Level Five is autonomous while levels one to four are varying degrees of automated.

  • Level Zero: No automation – “Full-time performance by the human driver…”
  • Level One: Driver assistance – “The driving mode-specific execution by a driver assistance system of either steering or acceleration/deceleration…with the expectation that the human driver performs all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task.”
  • Level Two: Partial automation – “The driving mode-specific execution by one or more driver assistance systems of both steering and acceleration/deceleration using information.”
  • Level Three: Conditional automation – “The driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task…with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene.”
  • Level Four: High automation – “The driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene.”
  • Level Five: Full automation – “The full-time performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task under all roadway and environmental conditions that can be managed by a human driver.”

Here is a visual breakdown provided by SAE:


Within the automotive industry, some companies have developed cars that have reached different levels of autonomy, but Ford and BMW are frontrunners in hopes to reach Level Five by 2021. Currently, Tesla’s Autopilot designates their cars as Level Three according to SAE.

How are these cars being manufactured?

The NHTSA, National Highway Traffic Safety Associate, recently passed guidelines for manufacturers and states in regards to developing and testing these type of vehicles.

The federal government is taking steps to harness the benefits of transformative technology by providing a framework of how to accomplish it safely.

Manufacturers are given a 15-point guideline, but the guidelines issued by the NHTSA is intentionally ambiguous to allow for innovation and prevent over-regulation.

States are provided with a template so those states currently lacking legislation have a base model approved by the NHTSA.  The automated vehicle policy is the foundation for an autonomous vehicle future. The federal and state-level responsibilities are listed below.

The federal and state-level responsibilities are listed below.

— Federal Responsibilities 

  • Setting safety standards for new motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment
  • Enforcing compliance with the safety standards
  • Investigating and managing the recall and remedy of non-compliances and safety-related motor vehicle defects on a nationwide basis
  • Communicating with and educating the public about motor vehicle safety issues
  • When necessary, issuing guidance to achieve national safety goals

— State Responsibilities

  • Licensing (human) drivers and registering motor vehicles in their jurisdictions
  • Enacting and enforcing traffic laws and regulations
  • Conducting safety inspections, when states choose to do so
  • Regulating motor vehicle insurance and liability


We are tracking all states’ automated vehicle efforts and will update this post as legislative changes are made. The definitions given are based on the SAE’s Five Levels of automation (see above).

Sources for this article can be found through the following links:

Which states have allowed automated vehicles to drive on the road?


Click here to view the interactive graphic

Some states have already passed legislation and are on on the road to a safer future; however, other states’ legislative efforts are either still pending a vote or have yet to even embark on the new journey.

Although we have progressed, states will most likely still impose a driver’s license for operation of a vehicle and require insurance.

Because most laws require a licensed driver in the vehicle, the driverless cars are causing some patchwork of the state regulations. In the past three years, about a dozen states have introduced specific laws addressing driverless vehicles.

Here’s a list of states and their current status in approving driverless vehicles.

– Arizona

Governor Doug Ducey signed an executive order in August 2015 instructing various agencies to take necessary steps to support the testing and operation of self-driving vehicles on public roads. He also allowed universities to begin pilot programs.

– California

California’s Highway Patrol is required to adopt performance requirements and safety standards to ensure safety while autonomous vehicles are being operated on public roads.

– District of Columbia

The District of Columbia restricts the conversion of recent vehicles and addresses liability of the original manufacturer of a vehicle that has been converted.

The state defines “autonomous vehicle” as a vehicle able to navigate the road and interpret traffic control devices without an active driver. The District of Columbia requires a human driver ready to take control at any moment.

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– Florida

In 2012, Florida declared intent to encourage safe development, operation, and testing of vehicles with autonomous technology. They found that the state doesn’t prohibit or specifically regulate the operation or testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads.

In 2016, legislation expanded allowing the operation of automated vehicles on public roads and eliminated requirements in relation to testing and the presence of a driver in the car.

– Louisiana

In 2016, Louisiana defined “autonomous technology” for purposes of the Highway Regulatory Act.

– Michigan

Michigan permits the testing of automated vehicles under certain conditions, by certain parties, defines the operator, and addresses the liability of the original manufacturer on which a third party has installed an automated system.

It limits the liability of the manufacturer for damages in a suit of product liability resulting from modifications made by a third party, relating to automated mode conversions.

– Nevada

In 2011, Nevada was the first state to authorize the operation of autonomous vehicles. The state directs the DMV to adopt rules for license endorsement and operation.

Nevada requires proof of insurance and prohibit an autonomous vehicle from being registered, tested or operated within the state unless it meets certain conditions.

The state provides immunity to the manufacturer of a vehicle that has been converted to an autonomous vehicle by a third party.

The law prohibits the use of cell phones or other wireless handheld devices while driving; however, it permits the use of such devices for those in a legally operating autonomous vehicle.

– North Dakota

North Dakota allows research and provides for the study of autonomous vehicles. The state is interested in the reduction of traffic fatalities and crashes by eliminating driver error and how it can reduce congestion and improve fuel economy.

– Tennessee

Tennessee prohibits local governments from banning motor vehicles with autonomous technology from being used. It allows a motor vehicle to be operated or equipped with an integrated electronic display that the operator can see while the autonomous technology is on.

The state has established a certification program through the department of safety for manufacturers of autonomous vehicles before they are tested, operated or sold. The program creates a per mile tax structure for autonomous vehicles.

– Utah

Utah requires a study evaluating appropriate safety features and regulatory strategies and developing recommendations, including the evaluation of NHTSA and AAMVA standards and best practices.

States with Pending and Failed Legislation


Not all attempts to pass legislation has been successful. Several states have attempted but failed.

According to NCSL, “Sixteen states introduced legislation related to autonomous vehicles in 2015, up from 12 states in 2014, nine states and D.C. in 2013, and six states in 2012. Since 2012, at least 34 states and D.C. have considered legislation related to autonomous vehicles.”

Eventually, all 50 states will have to have some kind of legislation on the books for autonomous vehicles. Here are a few states and their progress so far.

– States Pending

  • Illinois
  • Massachusettes
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Penselyvania
  • Rhode Island

– States Failed

  • Alabama
  • Connecticut
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • Texas
  • Virgina
  • Washington

The Future Is Here

The wheels of change are in motion and manufacturers have been given a great incentive to innovate. States have been given a base model to form legislation, taking an idea and making it a reality. Consumers are being encouraged to provide feedback in order to effect change.

Whether or not you have an automated vehicle, you will need car insurance! Use our FREE tool below to start comparing rates now!

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