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Lyft Urges NHTSA: Help States Work Together on Automated-Vehicle Policy

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Even as the federal government assumes a larger role in shaping rules of the road for self-driving cars, concerns persist that a new policy doesn’t do enough to help automakers and tech companies deploy cars across the country.

In public comments submitted in response to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s new Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, representatives from ride-hailing company Lyft expressed fears that a patchwork of state-by-state laws addressing autonomous operations will complicate and hinder the deployment of these new cars. Lyft has asked NHTSA to add provisions encouraging states to recognize the rights of cars launched elsewhere to use their roads.

Reciprocity among states “would accelerate the ability for deployment of HAVs [highly automated vehicles] across the nation for vehicles whose operational design domains have already been safely and successfully tested or deployed elsewhere,” wrote Robert Grant, director of government relations for Lyft.

The first wave of state laws and regulations contain stark differences from state to state. California, for one example, requires that autonomous cars be equipped with a steering wheel and a brake pedal, with licensed drivers behind the wheel. Nevada has no such restrictions.

Reciprocity works well enough when it comes to, for example, permitting drivers who are licensed in one state to drive on roads in another. But for autonomous vehicles, the first wave of state laws and regulations contain such stark differences from state to state that such an approach would be difficult. California, for one example, requires that autonomous cars be equipped with a steering wheel and a brake pedal, with licensed drivers behind the wheel. Nevada has no such restrictions.

An arrangement like the one proposed by Lyft could allow companies to circumvent laws in more stringent states by first registering and deploying autonomous vehicles in states with less stringent regulations.

NHTSA unveiled its automated-vehicle policy in late September, and it provided the industry much-needed coherence on its views of autonomy. At the same time, the policy is intended to be more a starting point than a regulation etched in stone. Although the policy puts forth a model for states potentially to follow, without federal regulation or legislation, states are not yet obliged to do so. For now, the NHTSA policy hasn’t curtailed the fragmented approach.

Lyft added further comments on other aspects of the 100-plus-page federal policy, recommending federal officials clarify provisions on data privacy to ensure shared vehicle-performance data would not include consumer data.

“Lyft is concerned that the guidance does not set forward a clear statement that NHTSA is neither seeking, nor interested in seeking, such consumer-use data,” company officials wrote. “We urge NHTSA to make clear that the data the administration is seeking from manufacturers and other entities as part of the guidance is not intended to include specific consumer data collected by any ride-sharing platform or other platform that is associated with the use of an HAV.”

There’s no timetable yet for when Lyft will use autonomous vehicles as part of its ride-hailing services, but the company is expected to participate in testing of autonomous Chevrolet Bolts sometime in 2017. In October, the company said it would partner with Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Aspen Institute to help cities prepare for the arrival of autonomous vehicles.

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