Autonomous Vehicle Testing to Begin in New York–Sort Of

Here at Weil’s Product Liability Monitor, we keep a close eye on developments relating to autonomous, or “self-driving,” cars and their legal implications.  This technology–which has the potential to save countless lives, reduce traffic, and lower emissions–is developing at a rapid pace.  And, now, the technology is expanding closer to home–here on New York State roadways.  Last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York is accepting applications from companies that wish to test or demonstrate autonomous vehicles on public roads.  The initiative is part of a year-long pilot program and was included as part of the FY 2018 budget.

So is this a truly a welcome mat for autonomous vehicle technology in The Empire State?  The answer is, sort of.  While the Governor has touted the legislation as “another step forward in making New York the epicenter of cutting-edge technology and innovation,” a review of the Application for Autonomous Vehicle Testing shows that there are a number of restrictions in place.  These include:

You must first agree to submit your report on demonstrations or tests, undertaken pursuant to a DMV permit, to the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles;

You must comply with all federal standards and applicable New York State inspection standards;

You must have a $5 million insurance policy;

A licensed driver must be in the driver’s seat while the vehicle is operated on public highways (this driver must be prepared to take control of the vehicle if necessary);

You must provide the purpose of the demonstration and detailed routing information (including date, time, origin, destination, sequence of roads to be used, and total routing distance to the nearest 1/10th of a mile)

The route may not include construction or school zones;

You must pay for direct supervision of the demonstration/test by New York State Troopers.

Some might suggest this process is muddled with red tape.  Others, like the Governor, might characterize the legislation as a “careful yet balanced approach to incorporating autonomous vehicles” on public roadways.  Either way, according to research by the National Conference of State Legislatures, New York is now the 15th state to pass legislation relating to autonomous vehicles (with three other state governors addressing the issue by executive order).  We can expect many more states to follow.

We will continue to monitor developments relating to autonomous vehicles, and whether any companies apply for such testing in New York.  Indeed, it will be interesting to see if any companies attempt to perform such testing within New York City itself.  As one commentator noted, “Demonstrating the ability to operate in New York City’s snarled traffic and highly complex urban environment would be a coup for any engineering team. After all, if they can make it there, they can make it anywhere.”