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Self-Driving Cars


Self-driving cars exist and are being tested on public roads in the United States. They are not yet available to consumers. The technology has come a long way in recent decades, but it will probably still be years before they are a common sight on New Hampshire roads.

Engineers from Ford and Volkswagen say their biggest challenge isn’t programming the cars to follow the rules of the road – it's teaching them how to react when human drivers break those rules.  

Automotive maker Tesla released a software update for their cars in 2015 that included a suite of autopilot features. Cars with this feature can steer themselves in a single lane, change lanes, scan for parking spots, and parallel park automatically. While these systems help drivers, they still require active driver supervision. Therefore, Tesla's current vehicles are not truly autonomous.

Does NH allow self-driving cars? 

New Hampshire now has a pilot program for testing self-driving cars. In 2019, Gov. Sununu signed a bill into law that sets rules for testing autonomous vehicles on New Hampshire roads.  Those wishing to test self-driving cars here will have to pay an annual $500 fee and prove their vehicles meet a host of safety standards. 
In some cases, a company would even be allowed to test an autonomous car on New Hampshire roads with no safety driver present in the vehicle. 

Federal rules for self-driving cars 

So far, the federal government has left most self-driving car regulations up to state governments. This means that, for now, self-driving cars are legal on the federal level if they meet the standards regular cars are held to. But those standards for regular cars can pose a problem for self-driving vehicles because many federal vehicle regulations assume there will be a human operating the vehicle. For example, there is a rule that cars must have steering wheels and pedals. Automated vehicle makers hope to see federal regulations clarified soon. 

The National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration has published guidelines for automated vehicle makers. The document clarifies the roles of the federal and state governments when it comes to regulating self-driving cars. It also outlines safety recommendations and paves the way for further testing.

What’s next

What do you think? Is it a good idea to test autonomous vehicles on New Hampshire streets? Should the state do more to support this new technology? Let your representative know what you think. 

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