Consortium Recommendation

The Consortium recommends that legislation be enacted to establish whether children may travel alone in automated vehicles. If policymakers determine that certain children may travel alone within their jurisdiction, we recommend that the law define a clear set of qualifying conditions. These might include a minimum child age and effective monitoring and/or communication systems in the vehicle.


The absence of a driver in vehicles capable of full autonomy might tempt some parents to allow children to travel alone and unsupervised. Consider a junior high school student who starts late for band or football practice. If a parent is running late from work, it is probable they might consider having a rideshare AV pick up the child. Parents might perceive this situation to be safer than using conventional taxis or other public transport, in which a child is alone in a vehicle with an adult stranger. Children, across all ages, is another matter, without some form of communication between the child restraint and the car.

Parental Attitudes about AVs and Children

Safe Kids Worldwide fielded a research study in August 2020 to measure parental attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs related to AVs. It was a 15-minute national online survey of 1,000 parents with children younger than 15 years old. The survey found that 6 in 10 parents prefer the less-formal term “self-driving car” over “automated vehicle,” and only 2 in 10 parents are very familiar with AVs while the rest have only passing familiarity or no familiarity at all. It also found that 7 in 10 parents think it is likely that AVs will be a major part of the transportation system within 5 years. Findings suggest that communications to parents should focus on how AVs address child safety in various situations. This research will serve as a baseline as we look to repeat the survey in the future to see if some of that awareness and concern has changed. Read the full report here.


Haboucha et al. (2017) surveyed parents and found that 13% felt they would be willing to have an empty automated vehicle pick their child up from school. While Hand and Lee (2018) found that only 7% said “I would definitely use an automated vehicle to transport my child without another adult in the car,” another 52% reported they were “hesitant but not certain one way or another.”


These three surveys with parents reflect opinions formed while automated vehicles are an abstract concept to most people. When AVs are commonplace, attitudes are sure to evolve; familiarity is likely to build confidence and reduce natural wariness to the unknown.

Currently, few countries/states have specific legislation about when a child may be left alone either in the home or in a public transport vehicle. However, when it comes to AVs, it may be necessary to legislate for conditions under which being unsupervised is or isn’t allowed. It would be inappropriate to subject young children to several of the risks that are particular to this environment. For example, a vehicle breakdown or a collision may require a child to release themselves from their restraint system, leave the car safely, and await assistance. Similarly, a medical emergency would be very challenging for a younger child alone in an AV. Also, incidents of known risk to children in and around parked vehicles, such as hyperthermia, might increase if children are allowed to be unattended in AVs.


If policymakers in some jurisdictions determine that some children may travel alone, such laws should specify a minimum age at which this is allowed. Further, responsibility should be assigned for child safeguarding in the car and the nature that might take. Risks could be mitigated (up to a point) by mandating remote monitoring (the forecasted “teleoperations”) and communication systems that would enable children traveling alone to seek help if needed. These systems might raise new questions of cybersecurity and privacy but could be implemented in a secure way.


This issue is linked closely to that of responsibility for properly restraining a child in an AV. If the law assigns responsibility for properly restraining a child to a responsible adult within the car, children who ride in child safety restraints cannot travel alone under any circumstances. However, if policymakers determine that the responsible adult does not need to remain in the AV once the restraint is installed and the child is properly buckled up—or, if the law is not clear on this point—then additional legislation will be needed.


Example of Current Legislation that Addressed Unattended Children

North Carolina

In 2017, North Carolina enacted forward-thinking legislation to regulate AVs, including a provision addressing child passengers. Specifically, legislation makes it unlawful for any parent or guardian of a child under age 12 to knowingly permit that child to occupy a fully automated vehicle while it is in motion or which has the engine running unless the child is under the supervision of a person age 18 or older. See Model Legislation for Global Use.