Is Federal Autonomous Vehicle Legislation on the Fast Track?

October 9, 2017
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The House of Reps Passed the 1st Federal Bill to Address Autonomous Vehicle Tech

The House of Representatives recently passed the first federal bill to address autonomous vehicle technology. The bipartisan Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution Act (SELF DRIVE Act) now heads to the U.S. Senate.

 Autonomous Vehicle Technology

Self-driving vehicles are likely the destined for a road near you. Everyone from Uber to traditional auto manufacturers is working on autonomous vehicle technology. Overall, the driverless vehicles will power $7 trillion worth of economic activity and new efficiencies annually by 2050, according to a recent study by Intel and the research firm Strategy Analytics. The explosive growth of the industry is expected to involve nearly $4 trillion from driverless ride-hailing and nearly $3 trillion from driverless delivery and business logistics.

While autonomous vehicle technology can improve efficiency, the primary benefit of is safety. In 2016, there were an estimated 40,000 U.S. traffic fatalities, 2.5 million injuries, and over 6 million car accidents. Given that an astounding 94 percent of accidents are attributable to human error, experts predict that crashes could decrease by as much as 90 percent if drivers are taken out of the equation.

As beneficial as autonomous vehicles may be, they still face significant hurdles. First, regulators must get on board by allowing the self-driving cars on the road. Second, manufacturers must convince consumers that they are safe.

Provisions of SELF DRIVE Act 

For businesses in the autonomous vehicle industry, the SELF DRIVE Act is a positive development. To start, the bill clearly defines state and federal oversight over automated driving systems. The SELF DRIVE Act provides that states will continue to control vehicle registration, licensing, driving education and training, insurance, law enforcement, crash investigations, safety and emissions inspections, congestion management of vehicles on their streets, and traffic laws and regulations. Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) would oversee the safety of the design, construction, and performance of self-driving cars to avoid requirements that would prohibit or limit interstate commerce and travel.

The federal legislation would also exempt automakers and tech companies from the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that apply to traditional vehicles, with the goal of

accelerating the deployment and testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads. Each manufacturer would be entitled to exemptions for up to 100,000 vehicles each year for three years. After the third year, the available exceptions would gradually increase. Going forward, NHTSA would also be tasked with creating new rules and standards that address highly automated vehicles.

While the bill does not establish specific cybersecurity standards, it would require manufacturers to notify consumers regarding its practices to gather and use data collected from vehicle owners or occupants.

NHTSA Announces Revised Automated Driving Policy

In a separate action, NHTSA announced a revised federal policy for automated vehicles. The guidance, entitled “Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety,” does not impose any new compliance obligations, but rather aims to “support the industry as it develops best practices in the design, development, testing, and deployment of automated vehicle technologies.”

The updated guidance reflects many of the same policies outlined under the Obama Administration in 2016. One key difference is that entities will not have to undergo a pre-market approval process before launching new autonomous vehicle technology. In addition, the agency does not plan to impose any new reporting obligations at this time.

As highlighted above, the self-driving vehicle industry is continually growing and evolving. To date, regulations have failed to keep pace. To avoid a patchwork of state laws, businesses need a comprehensive roadmap to follow that will not hamper innovation.

Do you have any questions? Would you like to discuss the matter further? If so, please contact me, Robert Levy, at 201-806-3364.