Is Tennessee Ready for Self-Driving Cars?

Effective June 6, 2017, self-driving or “robot” cars are legal in Tennessee, provided a human being is in the car, and provided that the vehicle is covered by at least $5,000,000 in liability insurance (Senate Bill 151).

The new law defines “automated driving system” or “ADS” as “technology installed on a motor vehicle that has the capability to drive the vehicle on which the technology is installed in high or full automation mode without any supervision by a human operator. The technology includes specific driving mode performance by the automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task that can be managed by a human driver. It also includes the ability to automatically bring the motor vehicle into a minimal risk condition in the event of a critical vehicle or system failure or other emergency event.”

Under the new law, when the ADS is fully engaged, the ADS is the driver for purposes of determining liability. This is important for liability purposes, as it means that we do not have to prove a product liability case when there is an accident caused by a robot or self-driving car. Products liability cases are typically complex and expensive to pursue, involving lots of expert witnesses and industry stone-walling. It appears that the ADS will be judged just like a human driver. For instance, did the robot vehicle run a red light or did it have a green light? Did it fail to yield the right of way? Was it speeding?

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the number of states considering legislation related to autonomous vehicles has gradually increased in recent years, and now includes Tennessee:

  • In 2017, 33 states have introduced legislation. Last year, 20 states introduced legislation.
  • Sixteen states introduced legislation in 2015, up from 12 states in 2014, nine states and D.C. in 2013, and six states in 2012.
  • Since 2012, at least 41 states and D.C. have considered legislation related to autonomous vehicles.
  • Nineteen states—Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Vermont—and Washington D.C. have passed legislation related to autonomous vehicles.
  • Governors in Arizona,Massachusetts, Washington and Wisconsin issued executive orders related to autonomous vehicles.