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Task Force Report Maps ‘Road Ahead’ for Self-Driving Cars In New Jersey

As the automobile industry continues to make advances with self-driving cars, New Jersey is looking into what policies, laws and regulations it would need to enact in order to safely integrate the technology in the Garden State.

A newly-released report from the New Jersey Autonomous Vehicle Task Force has provided what Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean (R-21) says maps “the road ahead” for bringing driverless vehicles to the state in a smart and safe way.

The task force, created in 2019 by the state, was charged with studying autonomous vehicle technology and making recommendations on how to govern the use of self-driving cars, recently presented its findings to Gov. Phil Murphy and the legislature.

Looking to Lead

Kean, the primary sponsor of the resolution that created the task force, said the 11-member group “studied the issue in depth” and provided lawmakers with “thoughtful recommendations to consider and act upon.”

“We’ve been working for close to a decade to ensure that the Garden State is a leader in advancing driverless vehicle technology and the many benefits it may provide to New Jerseyans,” he said. “In working towards that goal, it was apparent that we needed a comprehensive plan to allow autonomous vehicles to operate safely and legally on our roads.”

The task force, which included representatives from the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), the Motor Vehicle Commission (NJMVC) and Division of Highway Traffic Safety, studied issues including licensing, insurance, liability, infrastructure, potential effects on law enforcement and public transportation.

Report Is ‘Starting Point’

Its 52-page report contains over two dozen recommendations that the task force says “represent a starting point for creating a framework to advance the beneficial testing and use of highly autonomous vehicles (HAVs) in New Jersey.”

Among the recommendations made:

  • Creating an advisory committee to monitor HAV testing and operation in New Jersey
  • Establishing a permitting and certification process for companies wishing to deploy and operate HAVs
  • Designating the NJMVC as the lead agency responsible for approving and overseeing the testing and deployment of HAVs
  • Forming work groups, jointly administered by the NJDOT and NJMVC, that will address topics including policy and planning, infrastructure needs and safety

The report stressed more work is needed to “continue to develop and execute a robust comprehensive program aimed at the broad deployment of HAVS that can provide affordable, high-quality mobility throughout New Jersey.”

Growing Market

However, New Jersey should create “a welcoming policy environment” to encourage “the safe testing and deployment of HAVs” that fosters collaboration, promotes public acceptation of automation, uses technology to improve the efficiency of the state’s transportation system “and enhances the lives of residents, workers and visitors by expanding travel options and making travel safer, easier and more affordable for all.”

The autonomous/driverless car market, currently valued at about $54 billion, is projected to grow 39% between 2019 and 2026, a recent analysis found.

Autonomous vehicles range from minimal automation to full automation, operating without driver input to control steering, acceleration and braking, and can be used for personal use, as taxis, ride shares or for freight purposes.

Rules of the Road

However, regardless of the car’s autonomy level or use, a license, registration and insurance are required to operate it.

Each state is responsible for licensing drivers and registering motor vehicles, enacting and enforcing traffic laws and regulations, conducting safety inspections and regulating motor vehicle insurance and liability.

Since 2012, 31 states, plus Washington, D.C., have enacted legislation on autonomous vehicles. And several states, including California and Pennsylvania, have developed licensing processes for operating self-driving cars.

Proper, Careful ‘Deployment’ Needed

HAVs, the task force’s report said, have the potential to provide a range of benefits, including safety, mobility, efficiency, convenience and financial. Possible drawbacks noted include uncertainty regarding how HAV deployment may impact land use patterns, public transit services, workforce levels and skills requirements.

“With proper and careful deployment, these potentially negative impacts could become positive contributions to the quality of life in New Jersey by enabling more efficient use of land, providing enhanced affordable mobility to underserved communities, allowing affordable housing to become affordable living, and creating new job opportunities,” the report said.

Kean said, “We know autonomous vehicle technology is rapidly advancing, and I’m glad New Jersey lawmakers have shown that we’re able to keep pace. If we continue to be proactive, we’ll ensure that New Jersey is a national leader in both the research and the deployment of driverless cars.”

Time To Prepare

Assembly members Daniel Benson (D-14), Andrew Zwicker (D-16) and Pam Lampitt (D-6), sponsors of the bill that established the task force, issued a joint statement following the report’s release, calling it “a guide as we work to safely introduce self-driving cars.”

“As major auto companies are exploring the development of semi and fully autonomous cars, we need to prepare for the day when we’ll see only self-driving vehicles on our roadways,” they said.

“States have an important role to play in both encouraging innovation of these vehicles and the benefits they may bring to society, while also addressing any safety concerns and changes that will be inevitable in how we manage our transportation networks,” the legislators said.

Oversight, Policy Focus

With the technology still evolving, the report notes that “there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding what path HAV technology development will take and how fast adoption will take place.”

The task force said it focused its efforts on what legislators “can and should do in the short term (one to two years) to enable and encourage the safe testing and operation of HAVs on public roadways in New Jersey, while highlighting areas to monitor and address over the longer term as AV technology development advances.”

The report stressed the need for New Jersey “to put in place an HAV governance structure that can monitor the testing phases of HAV development while also looking forward toward large-scale deployment,” as well as a “policy framework that ensures readiness, invites innovation and manages the transition to an HAV-dominated future, whenever that may occur.”

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