Federal autonomous vehicle framework is needed for the US to be a leader in AV technology

The future is bright for American leadership in the development of autonomous vehicles (AVs). The advent of self-driving technologies offers incredible benefits that will save thousands of lives every year by reducing traffic accidents and deaths. It will also provide countless seniors and those living with disabilities with increased mobility and improved quality of life. At the same time, AV technology will support American industry and good-paying jobs right here at home. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, traffic fatalities spiked in 2021 with 42,915 people dying in motor vehicle crashes. That is the highest number of traffic-related fatalities since 2005 and a 10.5 percent increase over the previous year. Much of this increase can be attributed to distracted driving which accounts for 94 percent of accidents. AVs and other auto technologies hold the promise to reverse these trends and save thousands of lives. In addition, this technology would also save Americans billions of dollars and countless hours of their time that are spent dealing with auto accidents. 

Aside from safety, AVs hold the promise of increased mobility for seniors and Americans living with disabilities. For many, travelling to the grocery store, a restaurant or to a job is dependent on a relative or friend that needs to drive them. Autonomous vehicles will provide them the opportunity to live a more independent life where they move from Point A to Point B on their own. 

Unfortunately, the lack of a federal AV framework threatens U.S. leadership on this issue and empowers countries like China, Japan and Germany to take the lead. Without this framework, we are throwing away our chance to be the world leader in emerging AV technologies. Currently, manufacturers are forced to navigate a patchwork of rules and regulations for developing and testing AVs. It’s making us less competitive. 

The solution is legislation I’ve authored, the SELF DRIVE Act. This bill establishes the necessary framework on the federal level to ensure the safety of highly automated vehicles while providing regulatory certainty for manufacturers. The federal government has long been in charge of regulating the vehicles on our roadways and the SELF DRIVE Act keeps them in that role as new AV technology rolls out. The bill establishes a national standard that ensures that consumers can be confident that the AVs they are riding in or they see on the road are safe. As I have said countless times on this issue, our motto when it comes to AVs is “Safety First, Safety Last, Safety Always.” The SELF DRIVE Act requires that AVs must be as safe as, if not safer than, the vehicles that are currently on our roadways. In addition, a federal standard ensures that consumers can be confident that there will be no issues when autonomous vehicles cross state lines. Currently, states can impose different standards that may make it impossible for an AV to drive across a state border. 

In addition, the bill requires AV manufacturers put in place plans to address data privacy and cybersecurity. In the new digital age, manufacturers must address these concerns from the ground up as they build these vehicles. 

This summer, we will mark the five-year anniversary of the introduction of the SELF DRIVE Act. That legislation passed unanimously in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 115th Congress but failed in the Senate without a vote. Since that time, we have only fallen farther behind. As we have seen throughout previous decades, technology does not evolve in a vacuum, and it’s critical that Congress act. We need clear laws and an innovation-friendly environment that will keep the U.S. the world leader when it comes to vehicle manufacturing. 

If Congress fails to act, other countries will step in and dictate the future of AV technology. We cannot allow this to happen. For the United States to be the driver of cutting-edge technology, we need a framework that allows the industry to innovate while ensuring high safety standards. To maintain our leadership in the world, Congress must avoid shortsightedness, look over the horizon and pass the SELF DRIVE Act. 

Bob Latta has served on all six Energy and Commerce subcommittees and is currently the Republican leader of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee. The Energy and Commerce Committee is the oldest standing legislative committee in the U.S. House of Representatives and is vested with the broadest jurisdiction of any congressional authorizing committee. 

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