Self-Driving Cars

Citizens Count Editor

In recent years, companies including Google and Uber have made significant progress in the development of self-driving cars. Currently, much of the testing for these vehicles has taken place in states like California and Arizona, where weather conditions are more favorable. It appears inevitable that companies will soon wish to conduct tests of their automated vehicles on New Hampshire roads, as well.  

Self-driving car regulations in NH

Currently in New Hampshire, there is no law banning or otherwise regulating self-driving cars. Recently, the Legislature passed HB 314, which would have established requirements and restrictions for testing self-driving cars on New Hampshire roads. The bill would have also created a special license for those wishing to test autonomous vehicles. Governor Sununu vetoed this bill citing safety concerns.

HB 1459, a bill submitted the same year which would have prohibited the testing of driverless cars in New Hampshire, was defeated in the Legislature.  

Federal rules for self-driving cars

Congress has yet to pass a law specifically regulating the development of self-driving cars. This means that, for now, self-driving cars are legal on the federal level as long as they meet the standards regular cars are held to. This is complicated by the fact that many federal vehicle regulations assume there will be a human operating the vehicle, such as the rule that cars must have steering wheels and pedals. Automated vehicle makers hope to see federal regulations clarified soon.

Two legislative attempts to establish which aspects of the technology will be regulated by the federal government and which will be handled by the states have stalled in the U.S. Congress in recent years.

Under the Obama administration, the Department of Transportation released its first policy guidance on driverless cars. This laid out a 15-point safety assessment that manufacturers were encouraged – but not required – to meet. In the spirit of deregulation, the Trump administration's DOT slimmed down the "voluntary guidance" document. The federal government has also urged state legislatures to avoid overregulating this burgeoning technology.

Self-driving car regulation in other states

Nevada was the first state to authorize the testing of driverless cars in 2011, and since then more than half of the states have introduced legislation to regulate the technology.

New York requires that all autonomous vehicle testing be carried out under the supervision of the state police.

In Washington D.C., a human driver must be available to take control of the automated vehicle at any moment.

Nebraska allows self-driving vehicles to be tested without a safety driver, but only if the vehicle meets certain requirements: for example, it must know how to behave at railroad crossings. The vehicle must also be programmed to remain on the scene of an accident and the owner of the vehicle is required to report any collision.

While it is illegal in Nevada to text and drive, the state specifically allows riders in self-driving cars to text on their cell phones.

Many other states, including Maine and Massachusetts, do not have specific regulations for self-driving cars. This creates a legal grey area: while it would probably be legal to test autonomous cars in these states, driving laws that reference human drivers could cause barriers to implementation of the technology. States will need to clarify these legal questions in the future.


"For" Position

By Citizens Count Editor

“NH should create regulations for self-driving cars.”

  • As with any new technology, there are bound to be complications as large-scale testing takes place. Therefore, New Hampshire should exercise caution by requiring that automated vehicle researchers meet certain standards.
  • Drivers have a right to feel safe on New Hampshire roadways. Knowing that any self-driving vehicle on the road has met certain minimum standards will help human drivers feel more comfortable.
  • Creating a clear regulatory framework for the testing of driverless cars could encourage companies to choose New Hampshire for their tests over states where the legal situation is more ambiguous.

"Against" Position

By Citizens Count Editor

“NH should not regulate self-driving cars.”

  • The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has urged states to let the federal government handle regulating the safety, design, and performance aspects of driverless vehicles. They argue it is important to have consistent regulations regarding automated cars from state-to-state to avoiding creating confusion.
  • It is too early to know how to best regulate this technology. We should allow automated driving systems to develop further so we can make more informed decisions about how to regulate them.
  • The restriction that automated vehicles can only be operated for research and testing purposes could keep businesses like Uber, that are looking to utilize self-driving cars in the future, from being able to enter the New Hampshire marketplace. Instead of imposing special restrictions on self-driving cars, we should update our existing driving laws by eliminating the assumption that all cars will be driven by people.


Signed by Governor

Establishes an autonomous vehicle advisory commission and an automated vehicle testing pilot program.

Killed in the House

Prohibits operating autonomous vehicles on New Hampshire roads.

Vetoed by Governor

Establishes requirements and restrictions for the testing of self-driving vehicles on New Hampshire roads, including a license for autonomous vehicle testing. The bill was amended to also establish "an automated and connected vehicle testing and deployment commission" to recommend future legislation.

Should New Hampshire make special regulations regarding the testing and operation of self-driving cars?


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Issue Status

Gov. Sununu has signed a self-driving car bill. It sets out rules for testing self-driving cars in NH, as well as the rules for when a self-driving car would be legal to operate in NH generally. The bill also creates a commission to oversee and study self-driving cars. 


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