Research Report Regulations to Respond to the Potential Benefits and Perils of Self-Driving Cars
Analysis and Recommendations for Advancing Equity and Environmental Sustainability
Yonah Freemark, Christina Plerhoples Stacy, Olivia Fiol, Jorge Morales-Burnett
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The mobility system in the United States is unsafe, inequitable, and environmentally destructive. Most Americans rely on personally owned, individually occupied, and gas-powered cars—a status quo that leads to tens of thousands of people dying each year in collisions, creates barriers to employment and other opportunities for people of color and people with low incomes, and maintains a resource-intensive transportation system that contributes to climate change and spurs sprawling land uses that destroy ecologies. Autonomous vehicles (AVs)—self-driving cars that can travel along publicly accessible streets some or all of the time without human involvement—could help mitigate these problems, if they are implemented in a thoughtful, well-regulated manner. However, if deployed haphazardly with inadequate oversight and regulation, they could produce even worse inequities than those caused by the current system. 

We conducted a study focusing on automobile-sized AVs designed for passenger use. We examine key potential benefits AVs could generate, as well as the problems they could exacerbate. Carefully designed regulations could help ensure that these new technologies improve access to mobility and reduce pollution. We recommend, among other policies, expanded testing and deployment; development of vehicle design standards for unconventional vehicles that clearly demonstrate that they reduce the possibility of injury for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists; federal requirements to quickly move AVs toward zero-emissions powertrains; mandates to ensure that manufacturers make AVs as accessible as possible for people with disabilities; minimum standards to protect the public from oversurveillance and to limit inappropriate liability concerns; and state and local funds, incentives, and fees to associate the rollout of AVs with a reduction in privately owned vehicles.

Research Areas Land use Neighborhoods, cities, and metros
Tags Federal urban policies Inequality and mobility Land use and zoning State and local tax issues Transportation
Policy Centers Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center
Research Methods Qualitative data analysis