We are getting closer to having driverless vehicles cruising on the streets of Iowa.

The state Transportation Commission approved the rules for automated vehicles at its meeting Tuesday. Daniel Yeh with the DOT says the rules apply to fully automated cars and trucks.

“We know that there’s a lot of vehicles out there now that have what we would be called advanced driver assist systems — things like lane-keeping and automatic stopping, and even some of your advanced adaptive cruise controls. So, these proposals and these rules really don’t impact anything like that,” Yeh explains.

The Iowa Legislature cleared the way for driverless vehicles in the last session, and this sets up some of the rules of the road.
“What we’re looking at there is the potential to issue some restricted registrations to those types of vehicles just to make sure that they are not operating in scenarios that they might not be prepared for,” Yeh says.

He says some of the rules are pretty common sense. “For example, if you have a vehicle that is not designed to operate autonomously on gravel roads — we just want to reflect that in the registration. So that maybe when the vehicle is being directly operated by a human, it could be on a gravel road — but that it would be very clear to both us and the operator that the vehicle shouldn’t be operated in automated mode on a gravel road,” according to Yeh.

Yeh says automated systems are being used — just not in Iowa yet. “There are live examples in other states of vehicles that carry passengers. Such as very short-distance and low-speed automated shuttles. There are vehicles that carry freight, typically small delivery,” Yeh says. “A very good example is the vehicle that is seen on the Domino pizza ads nationwide. That would be considered an automated freight vehicle.”

Yeh says it will be up to companies that use the vehicles to decide when they come to Iowa. “We just want to be ready. We don’t know for sure when a manufacturer, when an operator might call up and say ‘Hey we are ready, we think there is a good situation or perhaps a good market we want to tap into.’ So, we really just want to make sure that we’ve thought this through in advance,” he says.

The rules adopted by the Transportation Commission have to be published in September and the legislature’s Administrative Rules Committee will likely vote on them at its October meeting.