Auto Legislation Guide: Everything You Need to Know

the ins and outs of auto legislation
The intricate world of transportation

With connected and autonomous or self-driving cars hitting the news and government dockets, auto legislation has become a trending topic. It’s also a complicated web of regulations and “what ifs.” And this glut of laws, bills and more not only affect automobile dealers and the industry as a whole, but drivers, passengers and even pedestrians.

The motor vehicle world is becoming more digitally enabled. No surprise there, but local, state and federal judiciaries are facing both technologies and a public that are shifting faster than current codes and laws can regulate.

Add to that the changing face of mobile tech. It’s got drivers, passengers and their cars, literally, “talking” to automobile dealers. Smart technology is also allowing important communication with such public transportation entities as the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) via eGovernment and vehicle-to-government (V2Gov).

All of this is streamlining and transforming the auto industry, but at its heart? Sustaining and growing everything is auto legislation.

But where did this world of car regulating and oversight begin? What’s led to where we are today? And what’s going on with the future of self-driving cars and a virtually accident free world? Before we show you that such sci-fi notions aren’t as farfetched as once believed, let’s look at the history of transportation’s legal landscape.

Know Your Car History: How Did Auto Legislation Get Started?

Late 19th Century

The bike meets the road

bicycles join horses in the 19th century
Cyclists take to the 19th century road

It all began with the bicycle. The 1800s saw the stalwart horse and buggy joined by wheeled vessels operated solely by (hu)manpower. The state of the roads–dirt and cobblestone–proved an issue for cyclists who demanded better paths upon which to travel.

This led to the Good Roads Movement in the 1870s and the push for better byways. As the 19th century came to its end, the request for smoother trekking was getting louder and more insistent. It also began to include considerations for the needs of the newest addition to human mobility–the motorcar.

1900 – 1920’s

Cars take over

pre-auto legislation foot, horse and car traffic
Early 20th Century Traffic

Motorized vehicles started intermingling with pedestrians, horses, wagons and coaches along these same dirt or cobbled thoroughfares in the early 1900s. This “sharing of the roads” with heavy and hard-to-maneuver automobiles started the very first auto legislation in the Americas (at the local level).

The Good Roads Movement continued to gain momentum as motorcars were just beginning to take over the streets. Starting in 1916 and through a succession of “federal highway acts,” Congress provided millions of dollars in state highway cost assistance for paving 31,000 miles of roads (and most especially for mail carriers). What began with a request for bicycles in the 1870s turned into motor vehicle-related law in 1926, but movement on a national level was still slow.

1930’s – 1950’s

Establishing highways

Auto Legislation focuses on highway infrastructure

Motorway building was put on the back burner in the 30s because of the Great Depression after which federal monies were then diverted to the WWII effort. By the late 40s, America’s roads had been neglected and were outdated. Fixing them became an imperative as long-distance automobile travel was now popular with returning GIs and displaced Midwesterners. President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 to rebuild America’s haphazard highways into today’s 41,000-mile national interstate system.

Rumblings of emissions concerns

In 1953 Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn began making inquiries about the public safety and health risks surrounding noxious emissions from the city’s millions of automobiles. It began a conversation about how to address it–potential regulations and standardization–that would continue for several years.

Car boom

By the end of the 50s, auto manufacturers and post-war consumers saw a boom in car ownership. With safer, more established byways, motor vehicle travel became that much easier and, suddenly, essential.

1960’s – 1980’s

Auto legislation calls for seat belt safety laws

Car ownership continued its steady rise into the 1960s with vehicles becoming more sophisticated. This meant auto legislation had to advance to keep up.

Driver and passenger protection

In 1968, the first seat belt law was enacted as a federal regulation. This landmark ruling required all new cars to be equipped with three-point safety belts. Laws demanding vehicle occupants wear them, however, were and still are decided at the state level.

Also Read: How Odometer Disclosure Laws Could Make Paperless Auto Sales Real

Safety oversight

By 1970, public pressure for better car and traffic safety led to the establishment of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA went about applying “federal motor vehicle safety standards” to greatly decrease the number of car related injuries and fatalities. This agency is also charged with investigating auto safety issues – including demanding recalls of substandard equipment – and broadcasting this information to the public via consumer information programs.

Taking a stance on emissions

The 1970s also saw Supervisor Hahn’s desire for clear vehicle emissions standards come to fruition. What he began in 1953 with general inquiries for public health and safety led to what we now know as requirements that are systemized and regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Eventually, states began to adopt either the EPA’s federal standards or those of the more stringent California Air Resources Board (or CARB). Other CARB states include Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Washington D.C.

DUI crackdown

Auto Legislation addresses drunk driving concernsDriving while under the influence became a hot button issue in the 1980s. With the official creation of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) on September 5, 1980 and the subsequent enactment of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984, laws regarding the operation of a vehicle while inebriated became federally mandated and more stringent.

1990’s – 2015

The 1990s continued to see driving while intoxicated as an important issue and auto legislation again was enacted to create alcohol-level minimums, testing standards, law enforcement training and sentencing requirements.

Eyes on the road, not the phone

Auto Legislation tackles the 21st centuryLater in the early 2000s, the escalation of mobile phone calling and texting while operating a motor vehicle gave rise to “calling and driving” or “texting and driving” laws.

Vehicles go green

Auto legislation pushes a green vehicle initiativeIn 2009, President Obama launched a new fuel economy and emissions policy. Now, auto manufacturers must hit a combined fleet fuel economy for both cars and trucks with a 35.5 mpg average (42 mpg for cars and 25 mpg for trucks) by the 2016 model year. If not, the vehicle maker will be assessed a penalty or “gas guzzler tax.” This new auto legislation also defined highly fuel efficient and clean-burning cars and trucks as partial zero emissions (PZEV) and zero emissions (purely electric cars or ZEVs).

Safety features innovation

2011 was a watershed year for the auto industry as a new federal law made advanced safety systems such as electronic stability control (ESC) mandatory on all newly-built cars. These systems monitor your vehicle’s traction on the road and automatically make adjustments based on complicated algorithms, tire data and even radar and sensor technologies.

While newer features protecting car and driver address the unique needs of the more innovative automobiles coming off the line, a 2014 NHTSA report shows the agency recalled a record number 63.9 million vehicles for violating safety standards.

2016: The Rise of The Connected & Autonomous Car

auto legislation deals with the autonomous futureAt his last State of the Union address, President Obama unveiled – along with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx – a proposal to invest $4 billion to accelerate the development and eventual sale of self-driving cars. The plan also included a suggestion to remove any potential legislative roadblocks towards testing.

“We are on the cusp of a new era in automotive technology with enormous potential to save lives, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and transform mobility for the American people,” said Secretary Foxx at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. “Today’s actions and those we will pursue in the coming months will provide the foundation and the path forward for manufacturers, state officials, and consumers to use new technologies and achieve their full safety potential.”

Foxx went on to claim his office and NHTSA will work together to establish the guiding principles for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles on public roads and highways.

Indeed, 2015-16 will go down in history as the time when new policies dramatically updated NHTSA’s initial 2013 policy statement on autonomous vehicles.

Also Read: What’s the Driver Privacy Act and How Will It Affect Your Business

States take a stance

Auto Legislation sweeps the countryNevada was the first state to recognize and legalize self-driving car operation and autonomous vehicle technology way back in 2011. Already, California, Florida, Michigan, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Washington D.C. have enacted autonomous vehicle auto legislation mostly to define exactly what it means for an automobile to be driverless.

The rest of the states are wrestling with questions such as does an autonomous car have a steering wheel, brakes and an accelerator or is it truly pilotless with no controls whatsoever?

In fact, each state’s auto legislation is different in this regards. All are being updated to not only encourage the safe development of autonomous vehicles, but to allow self-driving cars to drive on public roads. The thought is these instances of pilotless operation would only happen occasionally and only if the car is insured by the manufacturer.

As of 2016, amendments regarding autonomous vehicle definitions, testing, funding and other policies have been introduced in the legislatures of the following 15 states: Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Washington.

Some state legislators – such as Virginia’s governor Terry McAuliffe – are proposing the development of “automated corridors” rather than allowing self-driving cars on any public road. Arizona’s Gov. Doug Ducey’s 2015 executive order, for example, not only supported the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles, but also established pilot programs at state universities and established a “self-driving vehicle oversight committee” headed by his office.

Electrification, Apps and Other Disruptors

Auto Legislation reflects the IoTThe confluence of on-demand mobility (as in smartphone apps and GPS location), connected cars and electrified vehicles have created today’s resurgence in newly-minted auto legislation. At every level, government bodies are defining terms like “autonomous vehicle,” “self-driving motorized vehicle” and “zero emissions charging stations.”

These definitions are the foundation of a new American transportation system that’s more connected, sustainable and safer. They are now being written into state codes such as California’s Cal. Civ. Code §§ 4745, 6713. This provides unrestricted installation or use of an EV charging station in an owner’s parking space.

Pending bills are also incorporating the desire to embrace the “connected car” in an active way, such as New York’s S 7879. Currently awaiting approval, it requests that both hands no longer be required on the wheel of an automobile if the appropriate technology is installed and engaged.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) keeps a running list of “enacted” and “introduced” autonomous vehicle auto legislation by state (or sometimes even by county). For example, two Florida bills (HB 7027 and HB 7061) were enacted in April of 2016. Together, these codes now “define autonomous technology and driver-assisted truck platooning” (with a funded pilot study project and report) and also “permits operation of autonomous vehicles on public roads by individuals with a valid driver’s license” (as opposed to an earlier law that allowed driving only for testing purposes).

The “ride instead of drive” subscription revolution

Ride sharing companies become mired in Auto LegislationThe rise of ride hailing and ridesharing motor vehicle services such as Uber, Lyft and other niche “car ride” markets have been in a legal battle with traditional taxi companies and government entities before they even got off the ground.

Known as “disruptors,” these tech companies are based on smartphone, GPS and app technology. Plus, they seem to work perfectly well within today’s mobile lifestyle built on simplicity and quality of life rather than brand and ego.

The legalities of, say, taxis versus Uber and Lyft are being fought in major metropolitan regions such as Los Angeles, New York and Boston. The freedom of on-demand mobility and transparent consumer and government transactions, however, seems to be placing pressure on lawmakers. This stress is not only meant to push local, state and federal agencies to allow technology companies into the ride hailing and ridesharing arena, but to support these convenient and environmentally-friendly alternative transportation solutions.

Smart, connected and (eco) friendly hybrids

Just about all hybrid plug-in cars (also known as battery-electric vehicles or BEVs) and EVs are the most connected cars on our roads today. They feature almost unbelievable built-in technologies as well as the automobile itself emitting information on everything from diagnostics to driving stats to wireless hotspots to pinpoint location.

When it comes to BEVs and EVs, auto legislation has not just focused on emissions, but also on how to charge them and even how to train emergency service personnel on how to react during accidents involving electric cars.

Local and county governments, along with grants and partnerships with auto and battery manufacturers, have been increasingly active in bringing “green cars” to city streets, parking lots and parking garages. They’ve done this by enacting codes and funding for EV charging stations.

Self-Driving (Autonomous) Cars: Buzz vs. Reality

Auto Legislation focuses on driverless cars and testingAs we move further into the 21st century, actually realizing the vision of pilotless vehicles brings up several questions. What’s real and what’s just media buzz when it comes to self-driving cars? Are driverless automobiles really going to happen? How, when and what about auto legislation and national highway traffic safety?

Navigant Research recently published its Transportation Outlook 2025-2050 report results. This conglomeration of talking heads — who look deep into an industry’s crystal ball — pondered a highly connected, self-driving car future based on projections from automobile dealer associations, auto insiders, statistics and current concept projects.

While many of us may not be around in 2050 to see a fully-automated transportation planet, Navigant surmises our descendants will benefit from auto legislation enacted around this time to realize their almost accident-free existence. The company also projects that in the next few years — after just about every legislative body has autonomous vehicle definitions, codes, laws and funding in place — self-driving vehicle testing can begin in earnest.

Also Read: Transportation Bill Paves the Way Towards Digital Vehicle Transactions

The Future of Automating Vehicle Services

Between now and 2050 will also be the rise of eGov or V2Gov applications.

Some county and state governments are already mandating the switch from paper to all-digital ways to do things. For example, you could instantly receive your new car title electronically right at the dealership or register your car online from your phone rather than standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Cars and hyper-connectivity

Auto Legislation sets to regulate the connected carLicense plate recognition systems have also been in the news recently due to rising concerns over  car hacking, digital safety, and cyber terrorism. Auto legislation is just now catching up with and racing to establish safeguards to combat these important new challenges. Decision makers are considering laws and regulations needed to establish what is now known as “cyber security” for connected cars, because autonomous and “smart” vehicles basically run on the internet and other public platforms.

Car accidents in the future will decrease dramatically as GPS location services, radar and sonar, and features like automatic emergency braking (AEB) will detect a possible collision and react before the driver (if there is a driver) does. This ability to communicate shows that vehicles have a place in the Internet of Things (IOT).

The growth of a car’s ability to converse across a variety of platforms is already bringing about the decline of individual automobile ownership. As autonomous vehicles move beyond a hope for testing to viable, proven working solutions, it could mean the actual end. Having that van or sedan in your garage will become more of a hobby than a necessity. The auto insurance industry and several car manufacturers (Ford being one) are already preparing for a transition from individual to fleet ownership.

Regulating the Cars of Tomorrow

See how auto legislation is a vast and complicated network of codes, laws and regulations that affect way more than just how you drive your car? The future of transportation and government definitely collides with so many parts of our lives and businesses when it comes to our brave new connected world.