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U.S. House Panel Approves Broad Proposal on Self-driving Cars

Posted by admin on Aug 17, 2017

Manufacturers of self-driving cars just got a big thumbs-up from the U.S. House of Representatives. A House panel approved a measure that bars states from imposing rules on driverless cars and would  allow the deployment of up to 100,000 self-driving vehicles without meeting auto safety standards already in place. The full House will take up the measure in September when it reconvenes.

If passed, the bill will be the first important federal legislation to help speed up the arrival of self-driving cars on the market. Tesla, General Motors, Ford and Alphabet all have been lobbying Congress to pre-empt the efforts of California and other states limiting driverless vehicle deployment.


The issue, of course, is safety. U.S. traffic deaths rose to 35,200 in 2015, a 7.7 percent increase over the previous year and the highest annual increase since 1966. Government data indicates that in the first nine months of 2016, the number of traffic deaths rose another 8 percent. Are driverless cars safe? Would they help reduce traffic deaths by eliminating human error and carelessness that often lead to accidents?

At present, federal motor vehicle safety rules prohibit the sale of self-driving cars without human driver controls. In addition, there are nearly 75 vehicle safety standards that automakers must meet. The new measure will prohibit states from imposing performance standards for self-driving cars, but allow them to continue to set rules for their licensing, registration, safety inspections, insurance and liability.

Bipartisan, Interest Group and Government Reaction

Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, said the proposed measure creates a “strong but flexible regulatory framework” while attempting to avoid “a patchwork” of various state rules. Democrats in general praised the bipartisan bill, but some want additional safety measures and other changes. Robert Latta, the Republican who heads the Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee that oversees consumer protection, said that changes to the bill are being considered.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufactures stated that it is “pleased that the legislation is moving forward.” Consumers Union, however, opposes “restricting states’ safety authority without strong federal safety standards in place” and wants changes in the bill that would “ensure that automakers demonstrate automated vehicles’ safety and don’t put consumers at greater risk in a crash.” Auto dealers want the final bill to ensure that existing dealer franchise laws that prevent automakers from selling directly to consumers will not be preempted.

John Thune, Republican Senator from South Dakota, is working with Democrats to draft a reform bill for self-driving cars. Former President Barack Obama’s administration unveiled voluntary guidelines in 2016 that asked self-driving car manufactures to submit a safety assessment consisting of 15 questions. Elaine Chao, President Donald Trump’s transportation secretary, announced plans to update the guidelines in the coming months.

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