When It Comes to Autonomous Vehicles, It’s Time for Washington, DC, to Catch Up to Arizona

Mark Cardenas served in the Arizona House of Representatives from 2013 to 2019. 

Late last month, Arizona Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly joined 10 Democratic
colleagues in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). The letter
urged the agency to develop a regulatory framework to foster and support autonomous vehicles.

In their letter, the senators outlined a future where self-driving technology leads to safer streets,
more jobs, more significant equity, and a cleaner environment.

To some, the senators’ vision might sound like pie in the sky, but here in Arizona, we know they
are right.

In parts of the state, people looking for a ride can summon a fully autonomous vehicle with the tap of an app. Shoppers looking for groceries can have their orders delivered by self-driving cars. Shippers who need to move goods over Arizona highways can do so in trucks under computer controls.

Arizonans have unprecedented access to autonomous technology and are benefiting in numerous
ways. As someone who drives an autonomous vehicle, it is exciting to see the coming changes.

A 2020 study from the Arizona Chamber Foundation found that Arizona’s autonomous vehicle industry was on track to create 39,000 new jobs, generate more than $250 million in new tax revenues, and support more than $4 billion in economic output. The same report noted that the benefits of self-driving technology go beyond dollars and cents. The technology also promises to reduce traffic fatalities, carbon emissions, and road congestion.

How has Arizona earned the pole position in the race to develop an autonomous vehicle economy? Our weather, suitable for vehicle testing, certainly helps. It has taken more than sunshine to get where we are today. The primary force behind Arizona’s front-running position is the willingness of state leaders to create clear road rules for autonomous vehicles.

Our state’s embrace of autonomous vehicles began in 2015 when Governor Doug Ducey issued an executive orderestablishing guidelines for testing and operating this technology. In 2021, the legislature followed with legislation creating safety standards and allowing commercial services to be fully autonomous.

In addition to Arizona, a handful of other states have also embraced autonomous
technology. Many of these states are in the Mountain West. All these states share leadership
that has put in place policies that have allowed the technology to flourish.

To truly unleash the power of autonomous vehicles in more communities, we need federal action

To build momentum for innovative national policies, I am in support of a new organization, Mountain West Self-Driving Future. This group, a tech-industry group Chamber of Progress project, is advocating for federal policies that will bring safe, reliable autonomous vehicles to more people.

I am pleased to see Senator Sinema and Kelly’s letter. It is good to know that Arizona’s
representatives are leading the push for a national framework that will expand the benefits of this
technology nationwide.

The Mountain West has shown the benefits of autonomous vehicles. Safer roads, high-paying
jobs, and increased mobility are within every community. We need innovative federal policies
that unlock these benefits for all. Arizona has blazed a path. Now Washington must follow.
Mark Cardenas, Former State Representative