Autonomous vehicles continue to deploy across the United States and prove their usefulness to consumers, lawmakers and businesses. Many states have already passed legislation establishing legal frameworks for autonomous vehicle deployment. Early adopters like Texas, Arizona and California have seen major investments from the autonomous vehicle industry. However, as the industry expands and enters a new phase of increased deployment, hesitant states are opening their roads for business. Kansas and Oklahoma both took major steps toward autonomous integration by passing comprehensive frameworks for autonomous vehicles this past legislative session. These new laws will codify autonomous vehicles and allow developers and operators to have specific guidelines for autonomous vehicles in these states. These laws will inform the public and allow all relevant stakeholders to operate from a similar base of understanding.
While Kansas previously created a strategic plan and taskforce on autonomous vehicles, until now, the state had not passed significant legislation on the issue. Governor Laura Kelly signed SB 313 into law on May 13 and established the state’s legal framework for autonomous vehicles. Kansas’s framework uses the term “driverless-capable vehicles” to specify that some vehicles can drive themselves within certain operational designs. The law allows these vehicles to drive on public highways without a safety driver if:
- they can reach a minimal safety condition;
- comply with state and federal laws and regulations;
- do not exceed a weight limit of 34,000 lbs. on tandem axels;
- and have a human driver in the vehicle for the first 12 consecutive months the vehicle operates in the state.
Vehicles are exempt from the 12-month requirement if they are not designed for human occupancy or lack manual controls.
Driverless-capable vehicle owners must submit an interaction plan to the Kansas Highway Patrol before the vehicles operate on public roads in Kansas. The law outlines proper protocol for vehicles to follow should an accident occur without a driver in the vehicle and exempts vehicles from regulations that do not apply. The Kansas Highway Patrol is given exclusive regulatory power over autonomous vehicles. The law specifies that “political subdivisions” cannot impose regulations or extra taxes on autonomous vehicles in their area.
Lastly, the new law creates the Autonomous Vehicles Advisory Committee which will produce a report on the state’s autonomous vehicle sector due each year on July 1 starting in 2023 until 2027. The committee will consist of 28 representatives from a variety of stakeholders appointed by the Governor, the Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate and other associations and agencies. The commission will be chaired by a Representative chosen by the Speaker and a Senator chosen by the President of the Senate who will trade duties by the year.
Members of the Teamsters Union in Kansas have expressed their displeasure with the law and said it was rushed through the legislature over bipartisan objections. Gatik, an autonomous delivery truck company, and Walmart have already announced they will be expanding their autonomous delivery program to Kansas after initial successful deployments in Louisiana and Arkansas.
Previously, Oklahoma passed legislation on autonomous delivery. On April 29, 2022, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed SB 1541 creating a comprehensive legal framework for autonomous vehicles in the state. The legislation is similar to the Kansas law but uses the term “Fully Autonomous Vehicle” for level 4 and 5 vehicles and permits drivers to operate vehicles equipped with “automated driving systems” as long as the vehicle issues a request to intervene when necessary. The law does not create a committee to study autonomous vehicles and gives the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Transportation the power to create rules implementing the law. The bill specifies that autonomous vehicles and automated driving systems are only regulated by this law.
By passing legislation on autonomous vehicles, Oklahoma will open itself up to benefits from autonomous trucking activities already taking place in the nation’s heartland. As the bill’s sponsor, Senator Paul Rosino, (R) noted, “Oklahoma is the only state on the I-40 corridor that isn’t already allowing AVs. That places our state at an economic and public safety disadvantage.” University of Oklahoma President Joseph Harroz Jr recently announced the school’s plan to launch OU Polytechnic Institute on the OU-Tulsa Campus. This new school would be focused on building Oklahoma’s Tech Workforce and would offer programs focused on innovative areas like electric vehicles and autonomous technology.
The autonomous vehicle sector is continuing to mature and states who have yet to adopt rules and regulations are taking notice. As the sector continues to commercialize, more states will flesh out autonomous vehicle legislation and ensure they are not left behind. By passing this legislation, Kansas and Oklahoma will allow their communities to take advantage of new economic opportunities and be at the forefront of our changing transportation landscape.
Need more information? Explore Dentons’ Global Guide to Autonomous Vehicles
For more information on developments surrounding autonomous vehicles in the United States and around the world, check out our 2022 Global Guide to Autonomous Vehicles. Dentons has outlined developments across the US in our 50-state roundup.