What is an Autonomous Vehicle?

Several states who are currently in the process of enacting, or who have enacted, legislation paving the way for testing autonomous vehicles have all grappled with defining “autonomous vehicles.”  Virtually all states embarking down the path to vehicular autonomy defined autonomous vehicles in the same way: “a motor vehicle that uses artificial intelligence, sensors and global positioning system coordinates to drive itself without the active intervention of a human operator.”  See 2012 Okla. Sess. Laws 3007; 2012 Haw. Sess. Laws 2238; 2012 Ariz. Sess. Laws 2679; 43 Nev. Rev. Stat. § 482A.030.  See also 2012 N.J. Laws 3020 (New Jersey has adopted similar language, except for using: “or any other technology to carry out the mechanical operations of driving without the active control and continuous monitoring of a human operator” instead of “without the active intervention of a human operator”).  California’s legislators chose to define “autonomous technology” as the technology that has the capability to drive a vehicle without the “active physical control or monitoring by a human operator.”  2012 Cal. Stat. 1298 c. 570.  California Senate Bill No. 1298 goes on to define an “autonomous vehicle” as any vehicle “equipped with autonomous technology that has been integrated into that vehicle.”  Id.  So far, all states agree that autonomous vehicles are just that, autonomous, in that they do not require “active” participation or control by the human “operator.”  However, time will tell how the definition of “autonomy” crystallizes as legislatures across the country put in place rules and regulations governing the day-to-day operation of autonomous vehicles.