We‘re on a journey that should lead us to safer, more efficient and more inclusive transportation, thanks to connected and automated vehicle technologies.  And, we’ve come to a critical navigation point.

We’re on the verge of deploying technologies that could fundamentally change how we move people and goods.   But, as with other major technology-driven shifts, the focus often turns to the worst potential outcomes from these developments.  And, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing – unless it leads to bad public policy.

The Obama Administration recently issued guidance to vehicle manufacturers on automated vehicles.  This announcement trended, making the front pages of our national newspapers and the top of our national broadcast news.  This was a remarkable statement about the transformative economic and social value of automated driving.  

This was good news -- as far as it went.  But this new federal guidance, while nimble and flexible to accommodate the pace of innovation, does not preempt state laws and regulations that could create a patchwork of requirements – making it difficult to sell and operate an automated vehicle in multiple states.  

California is an example. The state is already working on its own rules, which are dense, complex and lengthy.  Apparently, folks at the state DMV will decide whether the cars of the future are safe enough to be tested or sold in the state.  The state DMV - - really?  
In Massachusetts this week Governor Baker signed an Executive Order that is supposed to “promote the testing and deployment of automated vehicles.”  But by trying to do too much, Massachusetts may find itself heading down the same path as California, and that would be a mistake.  

In their quests to be states at the forefront of technology development, or, perhaps to capture an economic prize, they are poised to be among the least tech-friendly when it comes to automated vehicles.

However, one state that appears to be getting it right is Ohio.  Columbus recently won the Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge and was awarded a $50 million grant to develop intelligent transportation systems.  Connected and automated vehicles will be a big part of that.  Ohio did not need to pass any new laws and regulations on automated vehicles to get that grant. Why? Because none were needed.  Ohio is now going to be a magnet for developers of automated and connected vehicles.

Safety on our roadways is critical. New automated and connected vehicles will save lives, and government plays a key role.  But, we need new, flexible regulatory approaches that encourage innovation, not a Balkanized system that impedes it.