Keeping self-driving cars off the road is costing American lives

Keeping self-driving cars off the road is costing American lives
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Last year was the deadliest on American roads in a decade — even as cars have never been safer. In 2016, 40,000 Americans died because of automobile accidents. That’s 100 Americans each day. That’s one death every seven minutes. 

In most any other context, we would call this an epidemic and call on our resources to address this dilemma. Unfortunately, some are resisting the best solutions to this epidemic and trying to stop it with illogical arguments.

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Human error is to blame for 93 percent of car accidents. So, the best solution is to look for ways to make us all better drivers — or perhaps make it so we don’t have to drive at all.

 

That’s why it’s so important that we clear the roads for development, testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles or as they are more commonly known, self-driving cars.

Imagine it, even if deployment of autonomous vehicles cut the number of automobile fatalities in half that would save 20,000 American lives each year. 

And it’s not just life savings. Autonomous vehicle deployment means safer roads, better fuel efficiency, less traffic and more free time. It’s a goal embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike. For example, President Obama echoed these advantageous qualities in an op-ed where he welcomed autonomous vehicles for offering a safer driving experience and making the roads less congested.

But before these benefits can be realized, autonomous vehicles must first overcome regulatory roadblocks and legislative speed bumps.

Today there is a patchwork of autonomous vehicle laws that complicate deploying self-driving cars. Some localities outright prohibit autonomous vehicles or have a very restrictive framework while other laws permit many different self-driving vehicle developers on the road.

To achieve that uniformity, at a congressional hearing, witnesses from the automotive and tech industries called for federal government preemption of state autonomous vehicle laws. Fortunately, Congress and the administration have heeded the call to drive forward these life-saving innovations.

The U.S. House of Representatives came together and passed the SELF DRIVE Act. And this week the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its guidelines for autonomous vehicles in the hope that all states will adopt them as a model, resulting in uniformity.

But some are still opposing this necessary, life-saving technology — and their complaints are sometimes illogical. Opponents of the recent steps by NHTSA and Congress complain that “there is no oversight” — but NHTSA, like it does today, will continue to ensure the safety and reliability of all the cars on the road. Opponents complain the states, not the federal government, should be the arbiter over autonomous vehicle deployment — but imagine if your car stopped working just because you drove into another state. And opponents cry, “the car will know where I have been” — but navigation services in cars and smartphone are used constantly we need only apply the same privacy rules to self-driving vehicles.

We can’t let Americans continue to die needlessly. We need to do all we can to advance autonomous vehicles deployment.

So rather than fighting against ourselves, we should come together to set self-driving vehicles out on the roads and begin reaping the benefits as soon as possible. 

Carl Szabo is senior policy counsel for NetChoice, a trade association of eCommerce businesses and online consumers promoting convenience, choice and commerce on the net.