On Wednesday, the U.S. House unanimously approved a sweeping proposal to expedite the deployment of self-driving cars and prohibit states from blocking autonomous vehicle testing.
“With this legislation, innovation can flourish without the heavy hand of government,” Ohio Republican Bob Latta said on the House floor leading up to Wednesday’s vote. Latta is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that developed the legislation with support from tech companies and the automotive industry.
One thing missing from the House measure is large trucks, which the Senate hopes to address in its own bipartisan legislation. Congress announced a September 13th hearing to examine the role of autonomous commercial vehicles and how they may fit into the Senate’s pending self-driving legislation. Meanwhile, the House’s bill moves up the board to be put to a vote within the Senate at a later date.
The proposal would allow automakers to obtain exemptions to deploy up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting existing automotive safety standards in the first year. That threshold would eventually rise to 100,000 vehicles annually. The bill also instructs the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to revise its existing standards to include self-driving cars.
Companies hoping to develop autonomous vehicles are also required to draft security and privacy plans that document their approach for ensuring safe testing, but they do not need regulatory approval to put them on the road. Manufacturers are, however, required to demonstrate self-driving cars are at least as mechanically safe as existing vehicles.
Safety was the word of the day prior to the House vote. Representatives took it upon themselves to remind their colleagues that U.S. road deaths rose 7.7 percent in 2015. However, the largest contributing factor to that statistic was a growing population. Still, the NHTSA cites human error as the primary cause for 94 percent of all crashes — making it the perfect bullet point to cap off the debate.
There was also the matter of keeping America competitive. “If we’re going to stay at the forefront of innovation and technology in this country, we have to be driving the technology for autonomous vehicles,” Michigan Democratic Representative Debbie Dingell stated before the vote. “I’m really proud of the fact that we got this out of the House. We kept our heads down.”
Despite the victory, some Democrats expressed concerns over the lack of input on the bill from the NHTSA — which still lacks any Trump-appointed leadership. Others questioned whether the federal government even had a right to impose these vehicles on individual states, including some consumer advocacy groups.
“The autonomous vehicle bill just passed by the House leaves a wild west without adequate safety protections for consumers. It pre-empts any state safety standards, but there are none at the national level,” the Consumer Watchdog group said in a statement.
According to Reuters, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is expected to unveil revised self-driving guidelines on Tuesday in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The department later confirmed its intentions to showcase the rules sometime next week.
[Image: Ford Motor Company]