Autonomous Car Developers Ask Senate for Single Set of National Laws

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Like it or not, self-driving cars are a part of the future automotive landscape. The trick is in deciding exactly how they’ll be regulated.

Developers appeared before Congress on Tuesday with the hope of convincing lawmakers that national laws rather than state-by-state laws are the best solution.

There are also technical hurdles to self-driving cars, but those are becoming fewer every day. The bigger challenge is the law. Everyone wants these cars to be safe, but deciding how that’s done is a problem.

Right now, there are four states with their own individual laws for self-driving cars. California, a place where a large amount of autonomous testing is happening, recently proposed legislation that could greatly slow the pace of development.

The proposed law includes requirements for third-party verification of a car’s functionality, special training for those who purchase these cars, and a human behind the wheel at all times. That human requirement demonstrates the disconnect between lawmakers and developers.

Although having a human makes sense when the car is bringing you to work or the grocery store, it becomes a problem when a vehicle is hauling a commercial load. Lawmakers aren’t seeing the whole picture.

Tuesday’s testimony included representatives from General Motors, Delphi Automotive, Lyft, and the director of Google’s self-driving car program, Chris Urmson. The group’s concern is that laws from each state will stifle development to the point that it stops.

According to AutoBlog, Urmson said, “We face a growing patchwork of laws and regulations that has the potential to become unworkable.” What developers want and need is a single set of laws and guidelines covering the whole country.

Congress heard their concerns but had many of their own surrounding the safety of the data collected by these cars. Car hacking and the security of our personal information is a growing concern and lawmakers want to be sure that autonomous cars aren’t going to be vulnerable to hackers.

This becomes a moot point if developers simply throw in the towel and stop working on this technology. That’s the big danger.

If the laws become too complex, then there’s no way to make a car legal in every state. What works in New Hampshire might not work in Massachusetts, making the car illegal in some states and legal in others. It will be a mess.

There need to be laws surrounding the implementation of autonomous vehicles, but they must be simple enough and clear enough that developers have a chance of success. The potential for 50 different sets of laws to govern these vehicles is an obstacle developers might not overcome.

Nicole Wakelin

Nicole Wakelin