House lawmakers have approved legislation to expand companies’ ability to test self-driving cars. The legislation, known as the Self Drive Act, would let companies apply for exemptions from the state and federal regulations over safety and design when testing self-driving cars. The legislation also calls on the Department of Transportation to review its own regulations with regards to self-driving cars.
Self-driving cars could help prevent accidents and save lives by reacting faster than humans can to dangerous situations. According to federal statistics, roughly 95 percent of all car crashes are caused by human error. U.S. road deaths rose 7.7 percent in 2015, the highest annual jump since 1966. Traffic crashes cost the country roughly $836 billion a year in economic losses.
Under the bill, manufacturers who request an exemption would have to demonstrate that its self-driving cars are at least as safe as existing vehicles. Safety assessment reports would have to be submitted to regulators, but pre-market approval of advanced vehicle technologies would not be required. Current federal rules bar self-driving cars without human controls on U.S. roads.
The sweeping proposal also barred states from blocking autonomous vehicles. States have issued a variety of different rules in the absence of clear federal guidance. Under the bill, states would still be allowed to make rules regarding registration, licensing, liability, insurance, and safety inspections, but could not make rules regarding performance standards.
The bill is a major step forward for tech companies and automakers. Automakers and technology companies have been pushing for new federal rules making it easier to deploy self-driving technology. Automakers have even been bringing driverless test vehicles to Capitol Hill for lawmakers to test them out.
The bill could accelerate the deployment of self-driving cars across the U.S. Automakers could obtain exemptions to deploy up to 25,000 vehicles in the first year. Over three years, the cap would rise to 100,000 vehicles annually.
The House measure is the first significant federal legislation aimed at getting self-driving cars to market faster. Now, the Senate must pass its own version of the legislation. However, it’s not clear when that may happen.
In the Senate, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has been working on similar legislation. One issue that has arisen is how to handle commercial self-driving trucks, which are not included in the House legislation. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, indicated that self-driving trucks could be exempted from legislation that targets passenger cars.