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Research Questions

  1. What are the advantages of automated vehicle technology?
  2. What are the disadvantages?
  3. How should the use of this technology be regulated, and at what level?
  4. What kinds of vehicles should be allowed on the road, and who is allowed to operate them?
  5. How should the safety of this technology be tested, and by whom? To what safety standards should AVs be held?
  6. What are the primary obstacles to realizing the benefits of this technology and what can be done about them?

Abstract

For the past hundred years, innovation within the automotive sector has created safer, cleaner, and more affordable vehicles, but progress has been incremental. The industry now appears close to substantial change, engendered by autonomous, or "self-driving," vehicle technologies. This technology offers the possibility of significant benefits to social welfare — saving lives; reducing crashes, congestion, fuel consumption, and pollution; increasing mobility for the disabled; and ultimately improving land use. This report is intended as a guide for state and federal policymakers on the many issues that this technology raises. After surveying the advantages and disadvantages of the technology, RAND researchers determined that the benefits of the technology likely outweigh the disadvantages. However, many of the benefits will accrue to parties other than the technology's purchasers. These positive externalities may justify some form of subsidy. The report also explores policy issues, communications, regulation and standards, and liability issues raised by the technology; and concludes with some tentative guidance for policymakers, guided largely by the principle that the technology should be allowed and perhaps encouraged when it is superior to an average human driver.

This version of the report, RR-443-1, replaces an earlier version that contained several errors in the description of state laws concerning autonomous vehicles in Chapter 3, none of which affected the findings of the report.

Key Findings

Automated Vehicle Technology Offers Several Benefits

  • Without driver error, fewer vehicle crashes will result.
  • The mobility of the young, the elderly, and the disabled will be increased.
  • Traffic flow could be more efficient and congestion decreased.
  • Vehicle occupants could spend travel time engaged in other activities, so the costs of travel time and congestion are reduced.
  • Fuel efficiency can be increased and alternative energy sources facilitated.
  • Because such vehicles won't need proximate urban parking, space used for parking could be repurposed.

There Are Possible Drawbacks

  • Because the technology would decrease the cost of driving, congestion might increase, rather than decrease.
  • Occupations and economies based on public transit, crash repair, and automobile insurance might suffer as the technology makes certain aspects of these occupations obsolete.

Policy Implications Include Liability and Regulation Issues

  • Manufacturer liability is likely to increase while personal liability is likely to decrease. If a vehicle and a human share driving responsibility, the insurance issues could become more complicated. A variety of solutions exist if this poses a problem.
  • Inconsistent state regulation poses a risk — if 50 states have 50 different regulations, it would be difficult for manufacturers to match them all; likewise, vehicle owners might not be able to travel outside their state of residence.
  • Because many of the benefits of autonomous vehicle technology accrue to those other than the purchaser, subsidies or taxes may be necessary in order to maximize social welfare by equalizing the public and private costs and benefits.

Recommendations

  • Further research should be conducted to better quantify the likely costs and benefits of the technology and, just as importantly, to whom they will accrue.
  • As the technology evolves, policymakers should consider subsidies or taxes to equalize the public and private costs and benefits of this technology.
  • In general, autonomous vehicle technology ought to be permitted if and when it is superior to average human drivers.
  • Judges should consider incorporating the long-run costs and benefits of a technology in ruling on product liability suits.
  • At this point, aggressive policymaker intervention with respect to regulations or liability is premature and would probably do more harm than good, but that may change over time.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    The Promise and Perils of Autonomous Vehicle Technology

  • Chapter Three

    Current State Law and Legislative Activity

  • Chapter Four

    Brief History and Current State of Autonomous Vehicles

  • Chapter Five

    The Role of Telematics and Communications

  • Chapter Six

    Standards and Regulations and Their Application to Autonomous Vehicle Technologies

  • Chapter Seven

    Liability Implications of Autonomous Vehicle Technology

  • Chapter Eight

    Guidance for Policymakers and Conclusion

  • Appendix

    Conclusions from Qualitative Interviews with Stakeholders

This report results from the RAND Corporation's Investment in People and Ideas program. Support for this program is provided, in part, by the generosity of RAND's donors and by the fees earned on client-funded research.

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