Autonomous Vehicle Legislation and Trends
Autonomous vehicles have the potential to change all aspects of mobility – from driver safety and insurance liability to car ownership and how Americans commute – and could disrupt both public and private transportation as we know it. As Google, Uber, Tesla, the automobile industry and other organizations continue to make rapid technological advances in driverless cars, it is vital that federal, state and local governments establish policies, laws and regulations that account for this disruptive technology. Of utmost importance is finding a balance between guarding public safety while regulating insurance/liability and simultaneously encouraging investment in research and development of driverless vehicles and their implementation and integration into our transportation system.
Fully automated vehicles (AVs), also referred to as driverless cars or self-driving cars, are capable of sensing their environment and navigating roads without human input. They rely on technologies like GPS, Lidar and radar to read their surroundings and make intelligent decisions about the vehicle’s direction and speed and interaction with other road users, including cyclists and pedestrians.1
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has devised a classification system for autonomous vehicles. The details on this system are:
Proposed Ridesharing Laws in the States
(Accurate as of February 12, 2015)
Legislation regarding ridesharing services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar has proliferated over the past two years (see Transportation Network Company Ride Sharing Issue Status). In some instances, ridesharing companies – particularly the largest company, Uber – have backed legislation to open markets, gain credibility and legal protection, but also that could create barriers to entry for smaller ridesharing companies. Typically, such legislation matches current company policies on background checks for drivers, vehicle inspections, driver training, and insurance requirements.
State and Local Regulations on the Use of Golf Carts on Public Roads
While not commonly considered a category governed as transportation, several states in the Southern region have passed laws governing the use of golf carts as transportation on public roads. These regulations vary widely in terms of how, where and when golf carts may be used legally. In some places, such as Peachtree City, Georgia, and The Villages in Florida, local governments have invested in transportation infrastructure designed for the use of golf carts, creating a network of trails complete with bridges, tunnels and signage. In other places, it is illegal to drive a golf cart on a street or sidewalk any farther than a half mile from a golf course or approved event.
Information relating to the legal street and trail use of golf carts, as well as low speed vehicles (LSV) or personal transportation vehicles (PTV), in six states in the region is presented in the accompanying table. These vehicles all have different designations, and are regulated separately by both federal and state governments; however, these regulations serve very similar purposes and, in many jurisdictions, a modified golf cart may meet the legal definition of low speed or personal transportation vehicle. The table shows the relevant state codes for legal use of these vehicles, including who may drive them, where they may be driven, whether they may be driven at night, and any required safety features. In addition, because many states allow municipal or county governments to regulate use of golf carts, the table includes example local ordinances for each state where applicable.
In addition to state and local laws on safety equipment, some golf carts must meet federal safety standards. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulates golf carts with top speeds between 20 and 25 miles per hour as LSVs (49 CFR Part 571). Golf carts with top speeds of less than 20 mph are not required to meet federal safety standards. Dealers that modify or customize golf carts to exceed top speeds between 20 and 25 mph, however, must comply with the LSV safety standards. These standards require headlights, front and rear turn signals, taillights, stop lamps, reflex reflectors, rearview mirrors, parking brake, windshield, vehicle identification number and seat belts.
SLC State Actions on Suspect Guardrails
Over a dozen states, including five states (Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia) belonging to the Southern Office of The Council of State Governments (CSG), the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC), have recently banned the use of the ET-Plus rail head, the flat piece of steel at the front of a guardrail that is meant to glide along the rail on impact and push the railing safely out of the way from a vehicle. Transportation experts have concluded that the rail heads could possibly contain a dangerous defect that could lead them to jam, causing guardrails to pierce vehicles.
For additional details on state actions related to these suspect guardrails, please see the following:
Trends Related to Funding Transportation in the States
On September 10, 2014, Sujit CanagaRetna, Fiscal Policy Manager at the SLC was invited to testify before the Louisiana Transportation Task Force. After his testimony, members of the Task Force requested that he provide information to the following questions:
Question 1: Additional details on Louisiana’s Interstate and Highway Lane Miles as presented in the Louisiana page of the 2014 SLC Comparative Data Report on Transportation (Quick Facts ‐ Chapter 2).
Response: As mentioned during the testimony, the SLC’s Comparative Data Reports are prepared annually by legislative staff in four different SLC states. The Transportation report is prepared by staff with the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission. When contacted, the staffer that prepares the report and he indicated that the information on the lane miles was obtained from the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Highway Statistics Series, 2012, table HM 60:
The 129,759 in total highway lane miles listed for Louisiana in the SLC Comparative Data Report matches the number contained in the FHWA source document. The FHWA link to this report for all 50 states is included above. The Kentucky staffer added that since the information in this table covers lane miles, a 100 mile stretch of a four-lane highway would count as 400 miles.
Question 2: Additional details on a point made during the testimony that most states were highly dependent on the federal aid program for their highway and bridge construction projects. It was noted that the average state secures 52 percent of its highway and bridge capital outlays from the federal government. In addition, there are wide variations in this category with a state like Rhode Island relying on the federal government for more than 100 percent of its outlays and New Jersey relying on the federal government for a mere 35 percent of its outlays. Information where Louisiana and other SLC states stood with regard to this statistic is presented below.
Latest State Transportation Funding Proposals
(The information presented here is in response to a request for the latest state transportation funding proposals, i.e., proposals that were discussed and, in certain cases, enacted in 2013 and 2014)
There are significant challenges associated with the funding position of the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF), one of the more important sources of funding for state transportation and infrastructure programs. As a result of inflation, more fuel-efficient vehicles and changing driving habits, the HTF is seriously underfunded.* In fact, the latest estimates indicate that spending from the HTF currently outpaces tax receipts by $1.25 billion per month. While the current iteration of the federal transportation reauthorization is scheduled to expire at the end of the federal fiscal year (September 30, 2014), there is a great degree of uncertainty as to the specific approach that Congress might take in devising the successor to this legislation.
In late April 2014, the Obama Administration forwarded a four-year, $302 billion transportation reauthorization plan to Congress with recommendations on repairing and replacing the nation’s aging transportation infrastructure, while allowing for the needs of an expanding population. Even though transportation experts had recommended a slightly longer time horizon (six years) and larger amount ($330 billion), the four-year plan is an improvement on the current 27-month authorization, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). It is left to be seen as to what Congress will agree on, both in terms of the length and financial size, of the new transportation reauthorization.
At the federal level, experts highlight the following avenues as ways to generate the extra revenue to bolster the HTF:
Highway Trust Fund Balance
The latest update (March 16, 2014) from the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) regarding the funding position of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) contains the disturbing news that the HTF is under greater strain than previously indicated.1 The HTF, created by the 1956 Highway Revenue Act, is the source of funding (via the federal gasoline tax) for most of the federal government’s surface transportation programs implemented in states across the country. According to the U.S. DOT, the HTF’s balance could slump below $4 billion in late July 2014; just last month, in February 2014, US DOT had projected that the HTF would dwindle below $4 billion in early August 2014. (U.S. DOT attempts to maintain a minimum of $4 billion on hand to appropriately manage day-to-day financial transactions). The HTF is projected to run out of funds in early September, several weeks before last month’s slightly rosier estimates. Consequently, U.S. DOT officials have indicated that they are prepared initiate a number of cash management measures to prolong the solvency of the HTF, such as reimbursing states weekly instead of daily and only paying states a portion of their reimbursement requests, all strategies that will complicate the financial and strategic direction of state transportation departments.
The HTF comprises two funds: the highway account (funding highway projects) and the mass transit account (funding mass transit projects). On October 1, 2013, the first day of the current fiscal year (2014), the highway account had a balance of $1.6 billion in cash. Shortly thereafter, the account received a transfer of $9.7 billion from the General Fund. Given that disbursements out of this account have been occurring at a greater pace than inward receipts in the ensuing months, the account’s cash balance has declined by nearly $3.3 billion since the General Fund transfer in October 2013. As of the end of February, the highway account had less than $8.6 billion in cash. With regard to the mass transit account, while the account had a balance of $2.5 billion in cash at the start of the current fiscal year, the account received an infusion of $2 billion from the General Fund. While the latest US DOT report indicates that the account has a balance of $3.2 billion, the agency projects that the account will dwindle to about $1 billion by the end of the fiscal year.
Which SLC member states use variable rates for gasoline taxation?
In the SLC, every state levies taxes on the sale of gasoline and diesel fuel. These taxes can be grouped into three main categories. The first and most common type of gasoline tax is the fixed-rate tax, collected as a flat amount per gallon purchased. Every state except Kentucky levies a fixed-rate tax, and 10 SLC member states rely exclusively on the fixed-rate tax. Some states levy a variable-rate gas tax, usually in combination with a fixed-rate tax. The most common type of variable rate tax is based on the price of gas. Florida levies a second type of variable-rate gas tax: most of the states's gas tax is tied to the Consumer Price Index – the value of a "market basket of goods" purchased by the typical consumer, adjusted for inflation.
(click on headers to sort by column)
|State||Fixed-Rate Excise Tax||Tax as Percentage of Price||Indexed to Consumer Price Index||Relevant Constitution or Statute Section|
|Alabama||Yes||No||No||Amendment 93 (Constitution)|
|Arkansas||Yes||No||No||Sec 26 - 55 - 206|
|Florida||Yes||No||Yes||Title XIV Sec 206.46 (3)|
|Georgia||Yes||Yes||No||Art. III Sec IX Par. VI (Constitution)|
|Kentucky||No||Yes||No||Section 230 (Constitution)|
|Louisiana||Yes||No||No||Art. 7 Sec 27|
|Mississippi||Yes||No||No||Title 27 Ch 055 Sec 11|
|Missouri||Yes||No||No||Art. IV Sec 30B (Constitution)|
|North Carolina||Yes||Yes||No||Sec 136 - 16.8|
What are the natural gas vehicle consumption rates in the SLC member states?
In November of 2011, Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado and governors from several member states of the National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO) agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding to generate interest and action in the U.S. automobile industry for the development of functional and affordable natural gas vehicles (NGVs) to meet public demand. The NASPO states recognized the benefits and unique attributes of clean-burning natural gas and understood the opportunity NGVs present to save taxpayer dollars by forging an energy future that utilizes domestic energy resources to meet transportation needs. As of April of 2012, Wyoming, Mississippi, Utah, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maine, West Virginia, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana have signed on to support the multi-state joint Request for Information and Request for Proposals solicitation.
Per SLC research performed in response to an information request, Virginia is the only SLC member state that currently offers tax credits specifically to manufacturers of natural gas vehicles, implemented by the Alternative Fuel Job Creation Tax Credit. The utilization of natural gas vehicles in the SLC peaked in 2004, with NGVs consuming 6.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas. Consumption by NGVs dropped to 3.7 billion cubic feet in the following year and, in the SLC, has experienced slow growth from that bottom. The following table provides further details on NGV usage in the SLC member states.
(click on headers to sort by column)
|State/Region||2000||2002||Change||2004||Change||2006||Change||2008||Change||2010||Change||2012||Change||Average Annual Rate of Change|
State Efforts to Fund Transportation
Given the tenuousness of the gas tax in its current format as a reliable source of revenue to fund the transportation needs of states, policymakers in over a dozen states are proposing and exploring alternate mechanisms to generate funds for vital transportation projects. Here are some of these strategies broken down by tax/fee and non-tax/fee categories:
What are the seat belt regulations for 15-passenger vans in the SLC member states?
|State||Definition of "Passenger Vehicle" / "Motor Vehicle"||Year Established / Revised||Seat Belt Requirement|
|Alabama||a motor vehicle with motive power designed for carrying 10 or fewer passengers||1991||Front seat driver and passenger|
|Arkansas||any motor vehicle, except a school bus, church bus, and other public conveyance, which is required by federal law or regulation to be equipped with a passenger restraint system||1991||Front seat driver and passenger|
|Florida||a self-propelled vehicle not operated upon rails or guideway, but not including any bicycle, motorized scooter, electric personal assistive mobility device, swamp buggy, or moped||1986, 1990, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2008, 2009||Driver and all passengers under 18|
|Georgia||every motor vehicle, including, but not limited to, pickup trucks, vans, and sport utility vehicles, designed to carry ten passengers or fewer and used for the transportation of persons; provided, however, that such term shall not include motorcycles; motor driven cycles; or off-road vehicles or pickup trucks being used by an owner, driver, or occupant 18 years of age or older in connection with agricultural pursuits that are usual and normal to the user's farming operation||1927-2012||Front seat driver and passenger, unless exempted|
|Kentucky||every vehicle designed to carry fifteen (15) or fewer passengers and used for the transportation of persons, not including motorcycles, motor-driven cycles, or farm trucks registered for agricultural use only and having a gross weight of one (1) ton or more||2012||Driver and all passengers|
How did the states fare securing funds from the federal Highway Trust Fund?
Federal funding for highways is provided to the states mostly through a series of grant programs known as the Federal-Aid Highway Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The program operates on a "user pay" system, wherein users contribute to the Highway Trust Fund through fuel taxes and other fees. The distribution of funding among the states has been a contentious issue. States that receive less than highway users contribute are known as "donor" states and states that receive more than users contribute are known as "donee" states.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in September 2011 released a report assessing the performance of the different states in the distribution of funding. According to this report, every state received more funding for highway programs than they contributed to the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund. This was possible because more funding was authorized and apportioned than was collected from the states, and the fund was augmented with about $30 billion in general revenues since fiscal year 2008. Since that year, the Highway Trust Fund has been seriously depleted, requiring authorization of additional funds from general revenues. If the percentage of funds states contributed to the total is compared with the percentage of funds states received (i.e., relative share), then 28 states received a relatively lower share and 22 states received a relatively higher share than they contributed. Thus, depending on the method of calculation, the same state can appear to be either a donor or donee state. The following map displays the SLC member states' rate of return per dollar contributed to the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund for fiscal years 2005-2009.
High Speed Rail: Update from the Southern States
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently awarded the second round of federal grants to promote high-speed and intercity passenger rail in 23 states, including seven SLC states (Florida, Georgia, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia). While a bulk of the more than $2.4 billion in total grants were secured by California ($902 million) and Florida ($808 million), these federal disbursements for 54 rail projects scattered across the country will continue to enhance our nation's transportation infrastructure. The first round of rail grants were awarded by the Obama Administration (amounting to $8 billion) in January 2010 and funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The latest round of rail grants sprang from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations act.
What are the SLC states' regulations regarding left-lane campers?
The National Motorists Association (NMA) strongly supports the concept of slower traffic traveling in the right lane of multi-lane highways and vehicles in the left lane yielding that lane to faster traffic. The NMA calls this concept "lane courtesy". Recently, there have been several articles on the "left-lane camper", the driver who drives in the passing lane and bars faster drivers from easily passing. States are cracking down on left-lane campers, both to keep traffic moving and to tamp down the road rage that goes from zero-to-60 faster than ever before. Proper lane usage and common courtesy go hand in hand in helping lower incidents of road rage along with helping with traffic issues that clog our highways. In short, there is an acknowledgement that our highways are used improperly and the solution is not more highways, but rather in developing proper usage of the highways we already have.
In the SLC, only Kentucky requires drivers to move right if they are blocking traffic in the left lane. Most states follow the Uniform Vehicle Code and require drivers to keep right if they are going slower than the normal speed of traffic (regardless of the speed limit; see below). These states are listed as "slower", with an asterisk and an explanation if vehicles lawfully using the left lane must yield to overtaking traffic. A few states either do not require vehicles to keep right ("no"), or permit vehicles moving at the speed limit to drive in the left lane regardless of traffic conditions ("less than SL").
The color coding in the "keep right" column is red if the state has no restriction on slow vehicles in the left lane, yellow if vehicles moving at the normal speed of traffic are permitted in the left lane even when they are unnecessarily obstructing other traffic, green if use of the left lane is limited to passing, and grey otherwise.
How have record-high gasoline prices impacted driving habits in the SLC region?
With gas prices reaching record highs and public transit ridership surging to unprecedented heights, the latest U.S. Department of Transportation statistics (April 2008) indicate that Americans are driving less for the sixth month in a row. Specifically, Americans drove 1.4 billion fewer highway miles in April 2008 than at the same time a year earlier and 400 million miles less than in March of this year. In addition, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on all public roads for April 2008 fell by 1.8 percent compared with April 2007, a decline of nearly 20 billion miles traveled this year, and nearly 30 billion miles traveled since November 2007.
The following information has been collected from Traffic Volume Trends, a monthly report based on hourly traffic count data reported by the States. These data are collected at approximately 4,000 continuous traffic counting locations (stations) nationwide and are used to estimate the percent change in traffic for the current month compared with the same month in the previous year.
Vehicle Miles Traveled on All Estimated Roads
Number of Stations
Vehicle Miles (in Millions)
Public Private Partnerships (P3s) in Transportation: Trends from the States (remarks)
(click here to view slides of the presentation)
It is a great honor to be here this morning and I thank Senator McGee for extending this invitation to me and to The Council of State Governments. Established in 1933, The Council works primarily with state legislatures in tracking trends, carrying out research and analysis and promoting state interests. While I work for The Council's Southern Office, the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC) in Atlanta, The Council is headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky and also has regional offices in New York, California, Illinois and Washington, DC.
My presentation this morning covers an important trend surfacing in almost every state in the country: transportation-driven public private partnerships or P3s. Broadly, my presentation comprises four parts. Part 1, after a quick overview of national and state finances, details the impetus for this growing trend while Part 2 describes its pros and cons. Part 3 illustrates several best practices recommended by states and finally, Part 4, explores some specific P3 strategies either currently in place or being explored.
Although the idea of a transportation-related public private partnership is not new, what is different now is that states are increasingly creating legislation that allow for these partnerships to gel. Specifically, P3s refer to contractual agreements formed between a public agency and a private sector entity allowing for greater private sector participation in the delivery of transportation projects. Given that the option of raising taxes to fund an increasing number of transportation projects remains politically radioactive, policymakers continue to pursue a range of alternate funding mechanisms and P3s are a critical trend here.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, 22 states have now passed legislation permitting deals between public entities and private enterprise to finance transportation projects. The federal government, under the leadership of U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, is actively encouraging states to incorporate P3s into their future transportation calculations.