A couple of states in the United States have begun to legalize the operation of autonomous vehicles. Autonomous vehicles are also known as driveless cars, driver-free cars and self-driving cars. By Autonomous it is meant that a vehicle is capable of fulfilling the human transportation capabilities of a traditional car. An autonomous vehicle is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input or interaction. These vehicles sense their surroundings with the use of radars, GPS and computer vision. It is with these tools that the vehicle is able to navigate through streets as well as obstacles on the road. These vehicles keep track of their position even when conditions change in their surroundings.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has established an official classification system for Autonomous vehicles. The 5 levels are as follows:
Level 0: Drivers completely control the vehicle at all times;
Level 1: Individual vehicle controls are automated, such as electronic stability control or automatic braking;
Level 2: Two or more controls can be automated in unison, such as cruise control in combination with lane keeping; and
Level 3: The driver can fully cede control of all safety-critical functions in certain conditions. The car senses when conditions require the driver to retake control and providers a sufficiently comfortable transition time for the driver to do so.
Level 4: The vehicle performs all safety-critical functions for the entire trip, with the driver not expected to control the vehicle at any time. As this vehicle would control all functions from start to stop, including all parking functions.
These autonomous vehicles may be introduced in the District of Columbia in the coming weeks since new rules were introduced last week. The District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles published a set of new guidelines last Friday, in accordance with the Autonomous Vehicle Act of 2012, to allow drivers to obtain licenses for self-driving vehicles, and if there are no objections, will go into effect in 30 days. If this goes into effect, the District of Columbia would be the first jurisdiction to license self-driving operators. The process to obtain these special self-driving operator licenses is as simple as taking a self-driver training seminar, filling out the proper paperwork and paying the $20 fee. The application process means that each person trying to obtain this special license needs to acknowledge that they will be deemed the "Driver" of the vehicle while it is operating in autonomous mode, and are therefore responsible for speeding, rolling thru stop signs, and missing or passing thru traffic signals. This means that they are subject to the same traffic laws that non-autonomous cars and drivers have to follow.
Each applicant will also have to complete a training seminar and obtain certification in the operation of autonomous vehicles. These courses will be provided by self-driving car dealerships and manufacturers. Once the course is completed, forms executed, license fee paid and license obtained, each driver will have a new "A" printed on their license to show that they are certified to operate an autonomous vehicle. Once the operator is issued a license the final step is to apply for a special license plate that will only be used for self-driving cars.
Some of the advantages of autonomous vehicles are that fewer traffic accidents and collisions will happen, due to the system's increased reliability and faster reaction time compared to human drivers, roadway capacity will increase and traffic congestion decreased due to the reduced need for safety gaps and the ability to better manage traffic flow, relief of vehicle occupants from driving, higher speed limits, removal of constraints on occupants' state, due to the fact that the drivers age, blindness, distractedness, intoxication or other impairment will not matter, and alleviation of parking scarcity, are a few of the advantages of autonomous vehicles.
Some of the obstacles however are Liability for damages, software reliability, resistance for individuals to give up control of their vehicles, Cyber security, the implementation of legal framework and the establishment of government regulations for self-driving cars, drivers will become less experienced when manual driving is needed and the loss of driver related jobs.