Is Arizona the “Next Detroit” for Autonomous Vehicles?

FullSizeRender[1]At the 2017 State Tech Summit, autonomous vehicles took center stage.  The panel looked at why Arizona is leading the way in the race to attract the self-driving car industry, and how industry and policymakers can work together at the state and federal levels on autonomous vehicle legislation.

Sarah Matz, our director of state government affairs for the south, moderated the panel which included Arizona Senator Bob Worsley: Harry Lightsey, Executive Director of Emerging Technologies Policy at General Motors; Bill Goodwin, General Counsel at AirMap: and Jill Sciarappo, Strategic Marketing Director for Autonomous Vehicles at Intel Corp. 

The first question to the panelists was why Arizona is attracting the self-driving industry.  Senator Bob Worsley said that Arizona’s desert environment is optimal because “there really isn’t any difficult weather conditions and Arizona roads are very good.” Sciarappo added that the city infrastructure, quality of life and talent is high.

In addition, Arizona stands out in fostering an environment where self-driving technology is not only allowed to be tested and developed, but is strongly encouraged.  In 2015, Gov. Doug Ducey signed an executive order to support the testing and operation of self-driving cars in Arizona, allowing for accelerated innovation while also adhering to strict public safety guidelines. Under the Governor’s leadership, companies of all sizes have been able to advance their self-driving technology development without being held back by overly burdensome regulations.

While self-driving test vehicles are already on the roads in several states, including California, Arizona, and Massachusetts, only two states (Michigan and California) go beyond testing to deployment. Still, competition among the states is growing.

From a policy perspective, states need to look at autonomous vehicles cohesively and beware of passing patchwork sets of rules and regulations at the state and local levels.  Recently, at the federal level, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation recently passed out of committee the American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act, which will expedite the deployment of autonomous vehicles on American roads, making transportation options more efficient, more accessible to the elderly and disabled, and ultimately safer. 

However, many questions still remain. How will we address autonomous vehicles in airspace?  How will growth of autonomous vehicles impact jobs and will we see job-shifting to other yet to- be-determined jobs and capabilities?  Will we see commensurate benefits in mobility that makes work-life balance more bearable as commutes become less burdensome for example.  Our panel conversation started us down the path to answering these and other questions.