New Legislation Will Speed Development of Self-Driving Car Technology

Self-driving cars are a new form of technology that is here to stay, as some of the biggest companies in the world are in a race to develop the best iterations they can.

Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation, dubbed the Self Drive Act, that may make that race come to an end a little quicker.

To speed up innovation, federal regulators now have final say over performance standards for self-driving vehicles, and they could allow for up to 100,000 vehicles per year to be exempted from certain safety standards as the new technology continues to develop.

The legislation passed easily on a unanimous voice vote and will head to the U.S. Senate for consideration. This decision represents Congress’ first real dive into the regulation of autonomous cars. Previously, it was often up to states themselves to dictate any sort of rules or stipulations. The market of self-driving cars is in an odd spot, as tech giants like Google and Tesla are competing with traditional car companies like Ford. Passing country-wide laws means ensuring even competition between companies.

“The future of the automobile is here and this bill will give the automotive industry the tools it needs to completely revolutionize how we will get around for decades to come,” U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph told the Detroit Free Press. Upton is also a former chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee that approved the bill.

This legislation will require the U.S. Transportation Department to create rules within a year regarding self-driving cars sharing the road with other traditional cars. There are other aspects that may need rules too, such as performance standards for sensors, software and even how the car treats passengers. It’s an odd thought to contemplate, but should cars be friendly or utilitarian?

In the first year, up to 25,000 self-driving cars may be exempt from safety rules, and after three years, that number will jump to 100,000 cars annually. This happens as long as developers work towards safety features at least equal to what is available today.

The legislation continues, and goes on to show just how complex dealing with and regulating self-driving cars can be. Manufacturers also need to address cybersecurity concerns, as hacks or attacks on cars could jeopardize the safety and lives of those inside and outside the car. On top of this, personal data needs to be protected too.

Performance standards will be dealt with by Congress, but individual states in the U.S. will need to address licensing, insurance and law enforcement issues. This could set a precedent for other countries to follow suit, letting federal governments handle the pressing decisions but leaving lesser duties to the smaller branches.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers that includes some of the biggest automakers in the world issued a joint statement on the legislation, saying it “helps address a variety of barriers that otherwise block the ability to safely test and deploy” self-driving technology.

The legislation received notes of support from several house members and automakers, as they expressed it was a good step forward, but further work remains.