Why N.J. is falling behind in autonomous vehicle legislation

Avi Kelin. (File photo)

On March 18, 2019, the New Jersey Senate and General Assembly established the New Jersey Advanced Autonomous Vehicle Task Force to conduct a study of advanced autonomous vehicles and make recommendations on laws and regulations that this state may adopt to safely integrate autonomous vehicles on the state’s roads.

In New Jersey, a few bills have been introduced to regulate AV. One bill allows AV on any public road for testing purposes if the automaker designates an operator capable of immediately taking control, has significant insurance and provides disclosure of the information collected by the vehicle.

The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission must also approve an application by each automaker that includes certifications that the technology can be easily engaged or disengaged, with visual indication when it is engaged; there is an alert system when failure is detected and the system either gives the operator control or shuts down; the operator can take control in multiple ways; and sensor data from before a collision is properly stored.

Task force review of relevant New Jersey statutes and regulations revealed that current vehicle licensing and registration processes and standard policy insurance requirements are adequate to allow the titling, registration and licensing of “highly automated vehicles” for testing on public roadways. The task force made recommendations, designed to encourage safe testing and deployment of HAV, including establishing a permitting process to allow companies to test and deploy HAV on public roadways, and to permit HAV testers who have been approved in other states, to test in New Jersey.

On May 12, New Jersey introduced legislation establishing the permit process for testing HAV in New Jersey and establishing the Highly Automated Vehicle Interagency Advisory Committee.

Section 1 defines what constitutes a HAV, who constitutes an HAV tester, what constitutes an HAV testing permit and what constitutes a test. Of note, permits are only granted for testing on public roadways. Section 2 states that the commission will provide issuance of applications for testing permits on public roadways and consult the HAVIAC when deciding whether to grant such applications. Permits will be issued to an HAV tester that has valid approval from another state with similar standards.

Section 3 describes that HAVIAC is established to encourage safe testing of HAV. The committee will consist of 13 voting members, comprised of numerous executive officers from different state departments, as well as four members of the public with expert knowledge in HAV operation and policy. Subsections further describe term years, chairperson appointment and by-laws.

Section 4 notes that the committee will study and review the testing and use of HAV in New Jersey, consult on each permit application, meet with testers to monitor safety and address issues, and advise the governor, Legislature and various state agencies on policies and programs to advance the use and testing of HAV throughout the state. Section 5 states that the committee is entitled to call assistance and avail itself of services of state officials as it may require for the purposes of the committee, and to expend funds as appropriate.

Section 6 requires the committee to submit annual reports to the governor and Legislature concerning its activities. Section 7 says that the chief administrator of the commission will adopt regulations to effectuate the provisions, pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act. Section 8 states the effective date of this act, and that the chief administrator of the commission may take anticipatory actions as necessary for the timely implementation of the act.

This recent New Jersey legislation is much-needed and the first step towards implementation of the task force recommendations. AV are becoming more commonplace, and legislation must develop alongside this rapidly growing technology. The current legislation will allow companies to receive permits to test HAV on public roadways in New Jersey. Although this development was necessary, further improvements are equally as essential.

The new regulation only allows for testing on public roads. Years ago, when AV systems were first being developed, this legislation would be sensical. However, the technology behind AV has grown vast and quickly, so that regulations in New Jersey are falling behind. New Jersey needs a process for actual testing and operation of HAV. Companies want to get involved in this groundbreaking industry, but are unsure of how to do so. Clients call their lawyers with intentions to operate HAV and have no knowledge of the regulations. Further legislation must be developed to allow for more widespread testing and operation of HAV in New Jersey.

Regulations must be put in place regarding monitoring, liability and criminal behavior deriving from the use of HAV. As AV technology continues to develop, current laws on licensing and insurance should be reviewed and modified as necessary. New Jersey must put in place an innovative policy framework to monitor testing, while looking forward to large-scale operation.

Avi Kelin is chair of the Autonomous Vehicle Group at Genova Burns, believed to be the only such practice group in New Jersey.