One Foot in—One Foot out

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

The Governors Highway Safety Administration recently doled out some advice for state officials with regards to autonomous vehicles (AVs).  “Be a player in your state” and “Be flexible. This is a new game.”

States are indeed at a difficult crossroads.  Officials want to be seen at the cutting edge and are eager to bring a potential economic game changer to their state. Without any federal vision on driverless car regulations, why shouldn’t states be the leaders in figuring out the regulation tolerance for AVs?

Not so fast—it seems the feds now want to be the ones to regulate the development of AVs throughout these United States and are starting to stretch their muscles in that direction. Fourteen different bills were discussed this week in several congressional committees.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection heard testimony on one of the bills called the LEAD’R Act (Let NHTSA Enforce Automated Vehicle Driving Regulations). The LEAD’R Act would give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sole authority to regulate AVs which would preempt any related state laws concerning AV development and testing but would not prohibit states from regulating registrations, licensing , insurance, traffic laws or training.

Consumer Watchdog Program Director John Simpson testified before the subcommittee and urged congress to let states set the safety standards. He asserted that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) “has abdicated its responsibility” to enact safety standards for AVs. He added, “To fill the void, some states are stepping up to protect their citizens and moving to promulgate necessary safety regulations. Pre-empting the states’ ability to fill the void by federal inaction leaves us at the mercy of manufacturers as they use our public highways as their private laboratories however they wish with no safety protections at all.”

Simpson also said abolishing all state regulations would leave no rules for AV developers and automakers.  If the point of developing AVs is for the safety of all, wouldn’t this make all road users much less safe?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also testified but in support of federal pre-emption of state regulations of AVs. Senior Vice President of the Chamber Technology Engagement Center Tim Day, told the subcommittee that, “Avoiding a patchwork of state laws enables manufacturers to be more innovative and ensures that any safety-enhancing automated vehicle technologies will be available throughout the country.”  Day added that the Chamber “supports the development of voluntary standards that do not constrain innovation.”

Conflicting testimony for a conflicting picture of reality: states vs. federal regulations, safety vs. innovation.

Can we trust the market to make us safe or do we need government to set the standards? If so—do we want a patchwork of regulation or one unified vision?

Difficult questions ahead indeed for AVs.  Are our elected leaders up for the challenge?  What do you think?


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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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