Autonomous Vehicle Regulations Talk on the Hill

The NMA Foundation presents The Car of the Future weekly feature:

Nearly every week some state or city has decided to take up the work on regulating autonomous vehicles in their jurisdiction. Up until now, Washington has taken a wait and see attitude or perhaps just had no clue what to do. But in order for autonomous vehicles to actually work, there needs to be a broader framework of understanding, regulations and cooperation. In the era of as little regulations as possible, the autonomous vehicle (AV) revolution needs some guidelines on a nation-wide level.

This week, three U.S. Senators (Bill Nelson, Gary Peters, and John Thune) presented a bipartisan plan on how to draft legislation for autonomous vehicles. This is at least a beginning.

  • Prioritize Safetyas with all new vehicles, federal standards are important to ensure autonomous vehicle safety. Legislation must consider short and long-term regulatory oversight that recognizes the new safety standards that will be set and maintained.
  • Promote Continued Innovation and Reduce Existing RoadblocksDeveloping new standards will take time. Legislation must allow the safety benefits to move forward and must find ways to preserve and improve safety while addressing the old rules that were not written with AVs in mind.
  • Remain Tech NeutralAVs will likely take different forms, using diverse technologies, follow multiple business models and serve consumers with different capability levels. Must remain neutral and not favor any of the above over the other.
  • Reinforce Separate Federal and State RolesTraditionally, Feds have regulated the vehicle itself while states regulated the drivers. Any federal legislation will need to clarify the responsibilities at the federal and state levels and must be based on existing relationships.
  • Strengthen Cybersecuritya top priority and integral feature for AV automakers from the beginning and any legislation must address AV connectivity and potential cybersecurity vulnerabilities before safety is compromised.
  • Educate the Public to Encourage Responsible Adoption of Self-Driving Vehiclesthe government and the AV industry should work together on educating the public. Legislation must review consumer education models and address levels of automation and capabilities.

The senators mentioned also that the guidelines for AVs are particularly important as they may set a legal precedent for the wider introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

During Wednesday’s Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing about the way forward with AVs, automakers pleaded with lawmakers to ease current safety standards especially with regards to a requirement that all new cars are required to have a steering wheel and floor pedals. Autonomous vehicle makers will need to ask for an exemption and apparently only 2,500 are given out per year which could pose as a problem as more and more testing continues.  Committee Chair, Senator Thune said, “Current federal motor vehicle safety standards do not address automated technology, and in some cases, directly conflict with it.” He added, “We are looking for ways to address these conflicts in outdated rules without weakening the important vehicle safety protections they provide.”

In written testimony for Wednesday’s committee hearing, Mitch Bainwol, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (a trade group representing automakers that produce 80 percent of cars on U.S. roads today) offered a more realistic assessment of car of the future.

Given how much vehicles cost and how long they last—more than 20 percent of cars on the road today were produced before 2002—vehicles equipped with Level 5 systems (fully autonomous) will likely not be a majority of the fleet for three more decades. Ubiquity is not projected to occur for at least four decades largely due to the fact that over 260 million light duty vehicles are registered in the U.S.

One thing that is not mentioned in the Senators’ statement or at Wednesday’s hearing concerned the automotive aftermarket that will have to fix those cars. Repairer Driving News (RDN) said that this is a problem because mistakes on an auto mechanic’s part with regards to repairing an autonomous vehicle could be much more disastrous on cars that humans control. The only statement uttered about this issue was from Mitch Bainwol, “The OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) would like to be protected from aftermarket adjustments to the vehicle.”

At least the dialogue has begun. Now the real work begins and there is much to consider in order for the car of the future to be safe for every passenger.

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The NMA Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting your interests as a motorist and citizen through the multi-faceted approach of research, education, and litigation.  The Foundation is able to offer this assistance through tax-deductible contributions. 

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If you are interested in learning more about the Car of the Future check out the following NMA resources:

NMA Driving News Feed—Over 50 Car of the Future stories are placed each month in the NMA Driving News—the go-to source for all your driving news information from around the country.

NMA’s Flipboard Magazine called Car of the Future—Over 50 stories are placed each month in this magazine devoted to the Car of the Future.  Stories featured include future car politics, industry news and thought pieces.

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