Self-driving cars are the future. A bill that just passed the House is being hailed as "first-of-its-kind" legislation to encourage the development of --- and provide a light regulatory framework for --- this burgeoning new technology.
What the bill does
The SELF DRIVE Act would:
- Block states from banning self-driving vehicles. (No state has yet banned the vehicles outright, although individual legislators in some states have proposed such measures.)
- Grant exemptions to existing safety standards for a company's first 100,000 vehicles, in an effort to speed up their production into the market.
- Require manufacturers to develop plans to thwart cyberattacks on the digitally-run vehicles. You wouldn't want a hacker gaining access and controlling your car remotely while you're in it.
The bill, numbered H.R. 3388, was introduced in July by Rep. Robert Latta (R-OH5), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection.
The acronym is short for the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act.
About 1 million vehicles with self-driving features are already on the road, with an estimated 10 million by 2020. Everyone from Ford to Tesla to Google to Apple are developing their own such cars, which could revolutionize travel and dramatically decrease fatalities.
What supporters say
Supporters argue the bill would provide a much-needed consistent federal framework to smooth out the disparate state laws, which can hamper innovation from the national companies leading development and which hope to sell in all 50 states.
"Self-driving cars have the potential to reduce traffic accidents and deaths, increase mobility, and improve quality-of-life," Latta said in a press release. "The legislation passed by committee was the result of a bipartisan effort, which involved over 250 meetings with interested stakeholders in 2017 alone.
"Congress can't get caught flat-footed on this new technology," Latta continued, "and this bill ensures that a definitive framework is in place as industry develops, tests, and deploys autonomous vehicles."
What opponents say
Although no legislator from either party voted against the bill in the House, some consumer and advocacy groups have expressed anxiety about the legislation over safety concerns.
"The SELF-DRIVE Act would leave a wild west without adequate safety protections for consumers. The bill pre-empts any state safety standards, but there are none at the national level," Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project Director John M. Simpson said in a press release.
"Pre-empting the states' ability to fill the void left 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 added.
Votes and odds of passage
The bill first attracted a bipartisan mix of 31 cosponsors: 20 Republicans and 11 Democrats.
It passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee by a unanimous 54--0 vote in September. The next day, it passed the whole House on a voice vote, meaning no records of individual votes were cast as there was no significant opposition.
It now awaits a vote in the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.