New Self-Driving Car Legislation Gets Approval

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The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a key piece of legislation designed to get self-driving cars on our roads more quickly. The bipartisan bill was unanimously approved on a 54-0 vote Thursday.

It’s all part of the government’s effort to reduce the number of roadblocks to testing self-driving cars and eventually putting them in our driveways. If approved, the bill will let automakers put up to 25,000 vehicles on the road without meeting current safety standards in the first year. That number would rise to 100,000 vehicles per year after three years.

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It sounds a little crazy to allow cars on the roads that don’t adhere to safety standards, but there’s good reason in the case of self-driving cars. The very rules designed to keep us save in our traditional cars can make testing self-driving cars impossible.

Your car currently has to have a steering wheel and pedals along with a person sitting behind that wheel. That’s perfectly reasonable in a car that isn’t self-driving. The whole idea behind a self-driving car is to remove those redundant features, including the good old fashioned driver.

It won’t simply be a free for all with automakers sending out cars without any oversight. Safety assessment reports will need to be sent to regulators so the status of these cars can be monitored. The bill would simply allow them on the road without special approvals.

Automakers will also need to show that self-driving cars are at least as safe as existing vehicles, so there will be no going back to the days when cars crumpled like cheap aluminum cans with the slightest impact. Although the federal government will be in charge of tis monitoring, that won’t mean states are cut out of the picture.

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Rules on registration, licensing, liability, and insurance will still be under each state’s control. They simply won’t be able to come up with their own standards for the vehicle itself. Automakers have long been arguing that letting individual states dictate the rules on which cars could be on the road would create an impossible tangle of regulations.

Proponents of the bill hope to have it on the schedule this fall for debate on the House floor, but an already crowded calendar might push it into next year.

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Nicole Wakelin

Nicole Wakelin