U.S. Congress Unanimously Passes Law for Autonomous Vehicles

The U.S. Congress unanimously passed a law, aiming at accelerating the development of self-driving vehicles. The law aims at preventing the states from blocking or obstructing the development efforts and allows manufacturers to deploy 25,000 vehicles without manual controls on the roads. Those 25,000 vehicles are not required to fulfill current safety standards. The number shall cap in the next three years at 100,000 vehicles. Current regulations forbid cars on roads without controls for humans.

The law is now heading to the U.S. Senate. Companies such as Waymo or General Motors have been lobbying for new regulations. The vendors have demonstrated the technology by inviting senators and congresspeople to ride in the cars.. Consumer safety organizations have been trying to add safety measures to the law.

An open item of the bipartisan law is the inclusion of self-driving trucks. So far they are not included in the law.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that the annual costs caused by traffic accidents are at 836 billions Dollars. 94 percent of all accidents are caused by human error. To obtain a permit for deploying autonomous cars, manufacturers have to prove that the cars are meeting at least the same safety standards of driving as humans.

The states would still be responsible for registration, licenses, liability, insurance, and safety checks, but not for the performance standards of the cars. Most test licenses so far – 40 in total – have been issued by California. Other states such as New York have very strict regulations that make it virtually impossible today to test self-driving cars on public roads. More than 1,000 autonomous test vehicles are already deployed on public roads in the US, with the majority of them in California.

Consumer safety agencies are lobbying for changes to the law, such as a faster access to crash data for the NHTSA or more money for supervising bodies.

My Take

The US is trying to intensify the development of self-driving technologies. The authorities have understand the opportunity to dramatically reduce traffic accidents, which cause 40,000 fatalities and over a million injured every year. Many states have been luring automotive companies to their regions for testing autonomous vehicles, with the hope that those tests will result in new and permanent development and production facilities for self-driving vehicles.

In Germany lawmakers are approaching those new technologies very slowly with an emphasis on safety and risk avoidance. The first step was installing an ethics commission to assess risks of autonomous driving, and less so the chances.

In order to have Germany and Europe play a leading role, lawmakers and regulators have to become proactive. Currently the gap to the leading nations is even more increasing.

This article has also been published in German.

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