Skip to main content

The Future of Self-Driving Cars

By Demri Scott | June 27, 2017

Nobody’s perfect, no driver is perfect. In recent years, automotive companies have begun initial deployment of smart driving technologies that aid a driver in dangerous situations. A once unforeseeable future of a car stopping itself to prevent a deadly accident is now a common reality in many new cars today. Now that we are moving into the future of the automotive industry it is clear that with rapidly changing technology, the future of self-driving cars (SDC) is on the horizon. But despite the promising future of automotive technology, many in the automotive industry agree that the current state of regulations hinders the growth of SDC. Congress soon wants to change that.

Today, the Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection, led by Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee Congressman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), held a hearing on the regulatory state of SDC, introducing a 14 bill package in an effort to end the patchwork of state by state regulations that hinder innovation in SDC and the automotive industry.

 Included in the newly introduced legislation is the “Let NHTSA Enforce Automated Vehicle Driving Regulations Act” or the “LEAD’R Act”, which gives the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sole authority in regulating SDC. The LEAD’R Act also preempts state laws in preventing testing or deployment of SDC while maintaining a degree of state control over regulating registration, licensing, driving education, insurance, and traffic laws. The goal of this legislation is to ensure testing and deployment of SDC while ending the piecemeal of state laws and regulations that prevent the testing and deployment of lifesaving technology.

The PAVE Act, another proposed bill in the legislative package, would increase the amount of self-driving vehicles on the road exempt from a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) from 2,500 to 100,000—a huge win for getting lifesaving technology behind the wheel. The ROAD act also increases the allotted time for an FMVSS exemption in attempting to provide longer times necessary to test SDC. The GUARD Act and SHARES Act are also among the legislative package that would treat collected data as confidential business information while the Automated Driving System Cybersecurity Advisory Council Act would create a Federal Advisory Committee to create recommendations necessary for cybersecurity in SDC. This package of bills would ultimately allow for the deployment of lifesaving technologies behind the wheel.

Despite their differences, there is a bipartisan consensus within Congress and the private sector that regulatory change is needed in order for SDC to flourish. Although the Senate has yet to release a bill, Senators Thune (R-S.D.) , Peters (D-Mich.) and Nelson (D-Fla.) recently released a bipartisan statement of principles for SDC including prioritizing safety, promoting innovation, remaining technology neutral, strengthening cyber security and preventing conflicting laws and rules from stopping the growth of SDC technology that can ultimately save lives.

Major players within the automotive industry agree that we need a regulatory framework conducive to SDC nationwide. The Self Driving Coalition for Safer Streets—made up by Ford, Waymo and Uber—have expressed the need for legislation at the federal level explaining that “the federal government should take additional steps to enable safe and rapid deployment ... and we call on Congress to enact legislation to facilitate deployment of fully self-driving technology." In another statement on new NHTSA standards the coalition urged “NHTSA to discourage state and local policymakers from pursuing their own rules and contributing to an inconsistent patchwork of regulations.”

Toyota is also advocating for legislation at the federal level because of the current extreme degree of difficulty in testing SDC as a result of the patchwork of regulations in each state. While testing for Toyota SDC is ongoing in Michigan, deployment of SDC technology in California was halted by state regulations. Volvo, GM and Lyft also have expressed interest in creating nationwide standards for SDC.

The patchwork of state regulations threatens lifesaving innovations in the automotive industry. SDC cannot text at the wheel or drink and drive. While on average there are currently 6 million accidents a year in the United States, under an era of SDC we could see a drop in accidents to 1.3 million accidents a year and a significant drop in accident related deaths from 33,000 a year to 11,300 a year. It is clear that with the deployment of SDC lives behind the wheel can be saved. But, in order for SDC to be properly tested and deployed in the future, we need a consistent regulatory framework conducive to innovation.

NHTSA was created in 1996 with the intent of regulating and setting FMVSS for automobiles. More recently with the growth of SDC, states have gone so far as limiting and banning testing of SDC despite decades of success in testing new safety features under the NHTSA. With more and more states restricting or outright banning the growth of SDC, the 14 bill package will codify decades of historical precedent in regulating the automobile industry.

The bottom line is that complying with 50 different state policies under a regulatory patchwork makes it more difficult for new life saving innovations to join the market. Creating a regulatory framework through a Congressional directive would ensure that the innovative future of SDC can become a reality in the foreseeable future.

More information on the package of bills can be found here


Photo Credit: SmoothGroover22