The ‘Self Drive’ Act puts America on the road to reducing congestion

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Nobody’s perfect, and no driver is perfect. In recent years, automotive companies have begun deploying smart driving technologies that aid a driver in dangerous situations. A car stopping itself to prevent a deadly accident is a common reality in many cars today, and fully automated cars will be a reality.

Testing of self-driving cars (SDC) is happening worldwide, and the benefits include safety, air-quality, and the all-important quality of life measure – reduced commute time.

Despite the promising future of self-driving technology, the current undefined regulatory structure creates unnecessary barriers. Congress wants to change that.

{mosads}The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the SELF DRIVE Act with a vote of 54-0. This bipartisan legislation should easily pass the full House, putting the ball in the Senate’s court to create a stable regulatory environment.


The Senate has not released its own bill; however, Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) released a bipartisan statement of principles for SDC including prioritizing safety, promoting innovation, remaining technology neutral, strengthening cyber security and preventing conflicting laws and rules from stopping the growth of SDC technology that can ultimately save lives. These principles are put into practice in the House SELF DRIVE Act, and should clear the way for Senate passage.

One of the most important things the SELF DRIVE Act does is clarify regulatory authority at the state and federal level.

Major players within the automotive industry agree that we need a regulatory framework conducive to SDC nationwide. The Self Driving Coalition for Safer Streets—made up by Ford, Waymo and Uber—have expressed the need for legislation to enable safe and rapid deployment and have voiced concern over state and local policy makers pursuing their own rules and contributing to an inconsistent patchwork of regulations.

But, in order for SDC to be properly tested and deployed in the future, we need a consistent regulatory framework conducive to innovation. That is what the SELF DRIVE Act provides. It clarifies state and federal authority; guidelines for NHTSA to data for safety and development; and puts down initial markers for cyber security, privacy, and consumer education.

Congress should act here because of the many benefits that will come to the general population, such as health, safety, mobility, quality of life, air quality, and reduced commutes.

SDC cannot text at the wheel or drink and drive. While on average there are currently 6 million accidents a year in the United States, under an era of SDC we could see a drop in accidents to 1.3 million accidents a year and a significant drop in accident related deaths from 33,000 a year to 11,300 a year. Case-by-case scenarios have shown even partial autopilot features can prevent individuals from dying on the road.

The technology will likewise improve access for communities without reliable means of transportation who will then be more integrated into the global economy. This not only adds more transportation options to rural and suburban areas, but also enables the elderly and disabled access independent transportation. Already self-driving technologies enhance safety for all by reducing traditional obstacles with features like adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and automatic braking. Further advances will eliminate the burdens that man-operated vehicles cannot overcome.

Autonomous vehicles benefit individuals on the road and economies as a whole with shorter commute times. Americans currently spend 75 billion hours driving per year. Saved time not only increases general happiness, but also amounts to an annual $507 billion in productivity gains and an 8 percent growth in GDP.

Self-driving also has positive implications for reducing environmental damage, cutting gas and electric costs, creating land supply from repurposed parking lots and eliminating traffic congestion. Increased fuel efficiency and more opportunities for vehicle sharing will lead to reduced emissions without over taxing and regulating citizens.

Unfortunately, some states have limited and banned testing even though testing of new safety features in vehicles is traditionally done by the NHTSA.

The SELF DRIVE Act codifies decades of historical precedent in automobile industry regulation.

The act correctly delineates the purview of federal versus state regulation for autonomous vehicles. In short, federal regulatory bodies have authority when it comes to the car, while states have authority when it comes to the driver.

States are not prohibited from activities regulating registration, licensing, training, insurance, law enforcement, safety and emissions inspections, congestion management, or crash investigation. And states maintain purview over dealership activities such as sale, distribution, and repair. These are all activities involving the human element of the driver that states have traditionally been responsible for, and that responsibility is maintained.

To maintain consistency, increase safety, speed development, and promote commerce, regulations regarding design, construction, performance and equipment remains with federal bodies.

Maintaining these divisions does not cripple the ability of cities and states to ensure safe operations. States still decide qualifications for operation, insurance, sale, and local road conditions. It would decrease safety, if states were able to enforce varying technical, mechanical, or software standards. Not only would there be confusion, but further delay in automated vehicle roll out increases lives lost – lives will be saved because automated vehicles will reduce the occurrence of preventable accidents.

The bottom line is that complying with 50 different state policies under a regulatory patchwork makes it more difficult for quality-of-life innovations to deploy. congressional clarification of the regulatory framework would ensure that the innovative future of SDC can become a reality sooner rather than later.

Katie McAuliffe is executive director of Digital Liberty and Federal Affairs Manager at Americans for Tax Reform.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Automation Autonomous car Bill Nelson Car safety Congress Gary Peters John Thune Katie McAuliffe Land transport National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Road transport robotics Self DRIVE Act Traffic congestion Transportation Waymo
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