Proposed Laws Could Ease the Way for Self-Driving Cars

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Autonomous cars are on public roads right now, but only in testing. The technology that allows for fully autonomous vehicles isn’t quite there yet, despite features like automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, and limited forms of auto pilot. New proposed legislation could speed the testing process and make it easier for automakers to bring these cars to market.

Cars are complex creations and there are numerous laws that govern how vehicles operate. Some of those laws are outdated and don’t account for changes in technology, like improved headlights that don’t pass muster under current regulations despite being better for visibility. Also on the list of things federal and state governments are still trying to figure out is how to legislate autonomous cars.

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It’s a lengthy and expensive process for automakers to put one of these cars on the road. There are also laws that require things like steering wheels and foot pedals, which won’t be necessary. These cars require new legislation and developers are concerned it could become a nightmare if each state is allowed to devise its own rules.

A new proposal is designed to limit that possibility be preventing states from setting their own rules regarding the testing and design of self-driving cars. The 45-page document includes 14 different bills and would put the responsibility for monitoring self-driving cars in the hands of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The series of bills includes legislation that would allow states to determine insurance and registration rules, as well as the ability for the Transportation Department to exempt up to 100,000 vehicles a year from the usual motor vehicle safety rules. An exemption from those rules might seem unreasonable, but it lets automakers test autonomous cars without the steering wheels and pedals of regular cars since those features will be unnecessary.

Also included in the proposals is a bill that would keep automaker data confidential. This includes crash testing and any validation reports that might be collected in the process of getting a vehicle ready for public roads.

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The idea behind the legislation isn’t to cut states out of the process, but to limit the complexity of approvals for automakers. If each state devises its own set of laws, then it could be near impossible for automakers to make a single car that follows every law.

The hope is that by limiting the ability to enact laws over self-driving cars to a single entity, the testing and approval process will be simplified and we’ll have these cars on the road sooner.

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Nicole Wakelin

Nicole Wakelin