Congress begins discussions on regulating self-driving cars

A House of Representatives subcommittee unanimously approved new rules Wednesday to make it easier for federal regulators to set new standards and restrictions on autonomous vehicles.

Linda Mack | Jul 20, 2017

   

A House of Representatives subcommittee unanimously approved new rules Wednesday to make it easier for federal regulators to set new standards and restrictions on autonomous vehicles. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will consider the legislation before the House adjourns in August. If the legislation makes it to a full House vote, it could eventually become the first federal law on self-driving cars.
Self-driving vehicle technology has proliferated in the past eight years, with Google developing "robocars" and Uber testing out self-driving models in a few select cities. But the federal agencies that oversee conventional automobiles have up until now had virtually no jurisdiction over themstates have set their own laws on these experimental vehicles, with vast discrepancies running from state to state.
The House subcommittee's legislation establishes that federal rules will supersede state and local ones. However, the legislation gives vehicle makers increased liberties in some respects. For example, an autonomous vehicle maker will be allowed to test-drive up to 100,000 vehicles that don't quite meet federal standards. Right now, the vehicle maker can only test up to 2,500.
Some technology experts support this expanded leeway on testing as a means toward faster progress on self-driving technology. But other critics suggest that regulators focus on establishing firm safety rules now and hold car makers to them before too many untested and maybe unsafe robocars take to the streets.
"What you want is performance standards," said John Simpson, a consumer rights advocate with Consumer Watchdog, adding that federal regulators just need to set guidelinesi.e., not dictate exactly how the cars should be built or work. "You don't say: 'This is how you make the car stop within so many feet of having the brakes applied.' All you say is, 'It has to be able to stop.'"

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