House approves bill to exempt self-driving cars from safety standards, overrule state laws


Waymo trains self-driving cars to identify emergency vehicles

Waymo trains self-driving cars to identify emergency vehicles

Enlarge Photo

The United States House of Representatives has taken the first step towards allowing automakers and technology companies to deploy self-driving cars on public roads.

A House panel passed a proposal that would allow automakers and other companies to deploy up to 100,000 self-driving vehicles.

Significantly, the bill does not require the self-driving cars to meet existing safety standards and bars states from setting up their own rules and regulations for autonomous cars.

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The goal of the bill is to avoid a patchwork of regulations that vary from state to state. Numerous states are eager to become test-beds for the new technology and have passed various dissimilar measures to permit such testing on public roads.

However, the bill would be one of the first federal measures to speed up the deployment of self-driving cars.

According to Reuters, automakers and technology companies would have to submit safety assessment reports to U.S. regulators, but they would not need prior approval to test their various technologies.

Ford Fusion Hybrid self-driving prototype

Ford Fusion Hybrid self-driving prototype

Enlarge Photo

To qualify for the safety exemptions, the makers of self-driving cars would need to show the vehicles "function as intended and contain fail-safe features," per the draft of the bill.

Currently, the safety framework for new vehicles includes 75 specifications that automakers must meet before a car may be put on sale.

Most of those 75 standards were written long before self-driving cars arrived on the scene.

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Accordingly, they assume the presence of a driver behind the wheel—not necessarily an accurate assumption in future autonomous test vehicles.

In its current form, the bill would be a victory for automakers and technology companies, which have lobbied Congress to create an overarching framework.

Regulations in some states—such as California—would limit the deployment of driverless cars; the proposed bill would overrule all powers the states have to create regulations for testing self-driving vehicles.

Chevrolet Bolt EV self-driving prototype

Chevrolet Bolt EV self-driving prototype

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However, states would still be able to set their own rules on registration, licensing, liability, insurance, and safety inspections.

Thus far, the bill has been praised as a bipartisan initiative, but Democrats still hope for additional safety measures as the legislation progresses.

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The full House of Representatives will not take up the bill until after it returns from summer recess in September.

With self-driving cars on the horizon, questions over regulating their operation and safety seem likely to become more common in the years ahead.

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