California Editorial: Congress must toughen self-driving car bill

Self-driving cars are the future. An innovation that is projected to be an $800 billion business by 2035 — double the size of the smartphone industry — is impossible to stop.

The present is another matter. Serious safety concerns demand a cautious approach. The story Nov. 30 about the Tesla Model S traveling down Highway 101 at 70 mph in driver-assist mode while its occupant was asleep behind the wheel, allegedly while under the influence of alcohol, makes that clear. Quick-thinking by highway patrol officers averted a potential disaster. This time. The next incident may not have such a good outcome.

The Tesla was not an autonomous vehicle. Its driver was supposed to be alert at the controls. But the incident raises questions about the state’s and nation’s laws for self-driving and driver-assist vehicles.

California updated its autonomous vehicle regulations earlier this year and began issuing state permits in April for public road operation of cars without drivers. Meanwhile, Congress is considering a self-driving car bill — the AV START Act — that would override the mishmash of regulations currently in place in 36 states.