U.S. car makers and regulators seek progress on autonomous driving legislation

Speaking at the recent Auto Show in Detroit, automakers and regulators expressed hope that Congress will soon pass a bill, that will speed the delivery of autonomous cars, despite more performance requirements.

The U.S House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill to quickly allow self-driving cars without human controls on roads, in September 2017. A Senate committee also approved similar legislation in October, but did not act before the end of 2017.

Both members of Congress and automakers, attending the Auto Show, expressed their opinion that it will take several months or more, for the bill to be approved by the Senate and signed into law. They both agreed that the new legislation had strong support.

According to Republican Representative Greg Walden, Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, “there isn’t much legislative time” in 2018 and “it just needs to get done”. Industry representatives like General Motors, Alphabet’s Waymo and Toyota, have been continuously lobbying for the landmark legislation.

There isn’t much legislative time. It just needs to get done.

Bill effects

The Senate bill will allow car makers to sell up to 80,000 autonomous vehicles annually within three years, if they demonstrate they are as safe as current, traditional, vehicles. However, auto safety experts and advocates oppose the bill, on the grounds of insufficient safeguards.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade association representing GM, Volkswagen, Toyota and others, has already requested faster action, stating that “delays in passing legislation are really delays in lives saved and in access to mobility for the disabled”. A speedy passing of the bill will enable the U.S. to maintain a leading position in self-driving technology, reduce more than 37,000 annual traffic deaths and avoid conflicting state rules.

Moreover, the bill will allow U.S. regulators the authority to exempt vehicles from federal safety requirements, requiring a determination within six months of an automaker request. This measure immediately raised concerns among several Democrats, assuming that some states would be barred from the ability to test autonomous cars.

Former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Chief, Joan Claybrook stated that “the car is not going to have to take a test”, so the bill will need to require binding performance requirements for security and vehicle electronics. Instead of the “ridiculous” exemption measure, the bill should bar car makers from seeking exemptions from crash worthiness standards.

Revised autonomous driving guidelines by summer 2018

At the same Auto Show, transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao, stated that the Trump administration will issue revised autonomous driving guidelines by the summer, as the government rewrites regulations that create legal barriers to robot vehicles. The new voluntary guidelines will address self-driving automobiles, as well as “barriers to the safe integration of autonomous technology for motor carriers, transit, trucks, infrastructure and other modes.”

The department is preparing for autonomous technology in all transportation modes. “The technology is there, the question is how do we regulate it, how do we continue to promote innovation but also safeguard safety.” The goal is to eliminate “unnecessary obstacles to the development and integration of new technology, by being tech-neutral and flexible — not top-down, or command and control.” The government does not plan to be “picking winners or losers, or favouring one form of technology over another.”

The goal is to eliminate unnecessary obstacles to the development and integration of new technology, by being tech-neutral and flexible — not top-down, or command and control.


Snezana Sokolovska

Snezana has extensive international background and business media experience. She is covering e-mobility, autonomous vehicles and smart technology at Electric Think.

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