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The Future Is Soon: Is Self-Driving Car Legislation Moving at the Right Speed?

by Countable | 11.24.17

What’s the story?

For several years, Google, Apple, and various automakers have been developing driverless cars. Last May, a Florida man died after an accident in his self-driving Tesla Model S. Earlier this month, on its first day on the job, a driverless shuttle in Las Vegas was involved in a crash – the human driver of the semi that hit it got ticketed.

There are issues which once seemed like science fiction that we, and the government, will soon have to confront — and legislate. The colonization of Mars. Cryptocurrency taxation. AI rights. Some issues are barreling down on us faster than others. And one of these issues has robots behind the wheel. Is it about time for self-driving cars? Or should we pump the brakes?

It depends on who you ask.



The History of the Future

Though Silicon Valley has been testing self-driving vehicles on public roads since 2010, Washington had remained largely quiet about software-operated autos. It wasn’t until September 2016 that the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a set of guidelines for autonomous vehicles. These non-binding recommendations included a 15-point safety assessment and a request for states to develop a uniform policy.

But then, in the autumn of 2017, Congress seemed to shift from zero to sixty.

The SELF DRIVE Act

In September 2017, the House passed the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution (SELF DRIVE) Act. This bill – which passed by a two-thirds majority – would clarify the federal role in ensuring the safety of "highly automated vehicles" (HAVs aka self-driving cars). Some of these include:

  • NHTSA would be responsible for regulating the safety of the design, construction, and performance of self-driving cars

  • NHTSA would also have expanded access to safety data for future updates

  • Manufacturers would be required to comply with cybersecurity plans or face civil penalties

  • States would continue to control vehicle registration, licensing, driving education and training, insurance, crash investigations, safety & emissions inspections, and traffic laws & regulations.

  • The CBO estimates that enacting this bill would cost $10 million over the 2018-2022 period.

The AV START Act

At the same time the House was passing its bill, the Senate was introducing the American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act. Building on the SELF DRIVE Act, some highlights of the Senate’s AV Start Act include:

  • Prior to testing or deployment of a self-driving vehicle, manufacturers would be required to submit safety evaluation reports to the Secretary of Transportation with information on safety, crashworthiness, and cybersecurity through documented testing

  • Requires manufacturers ensure all self-driving vehicles account for state and local traffic laws

  • Maintains existing Department of Transportation authority for advancing automated commercial truck and bus technology in the future.

  • Advances guidelines on responsible consumer education and marketing — including the capabilities and limitations of advanced driver assistance systems and self-driving vehicles

  • Improves mobility for Americans with disabilities by preventing the denial of a license to operate a self-driving vehicle on the basis of a disability

  • The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the legislation would cost the federal government $22 million to implement over the 2018-2022 period

Head To Head Collision

Representatives of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America and other groups have criticized the Senate bill, saying it was written to benefit the car industry over consumers.

"These vehicles will be equipped with unproven technologies and sold to unsuspecting consumers," Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, told reporters.

As the Washington Post explained, safety advocates are concerned that the AV Start Act "would allow manufacturers to sell thousands of vehicles that would be exempt from current safety standards, including…crashworthiness." These advocates also expressed concerns that the bill “shields manufacturers from civil liability” and “fails to address issues such as cybersecurity to keep autonomous vehicles safe from hackers.”

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) – which represents a number of the automakers developing self-driving cars – pushed back. They issued a statement saying the AV Start Act in no way diminishes the regulatory oversight of the NHTSA.

"Given that human error contributes to nine out of ten crashes, taking steps to further advance self-driving technologies right now is critical to enhancing future roadway safety and expanding mobility to under-served populations," AAM spokesman Wade Newton said in an email. “Not taking action now could potentially delay life-saving technologies.”

State or Federal Issue?

Safety advocates also expressed concerns that the Senate bill "preempts states from taking independent regulatory action."

Presently, driverless cars are a state issue: California, Nevada, Michigan, and fifteen other states have passed their own, unique, legislation. Arizona, for instance, only requires standard vehicle registration; New York requires all robocars to have police escorts.

Taken together, Congress’ proposals prioritize "preemption" – basically, Washington wants to dismantle the patchwork of state laws and create federal legislation.

Silicon Valley would experience the worst whiplash. Since Google began experimenting with driverless cars seven years ago, The Golden State has been passing and reworking robocar legislation. Working with companies like Apple and Tesla, California has crafted policies that ensure public safety but also allow for innovation.

For example, under current law, California robocar companies are required to submit public data on what their cars are up to, including reports about accidents. If Washington takes over, this data would instead go to federal regulators, and it’s unknown whether they’d release it to the public.

In 1936, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis observed that each state "may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory" of democracy. Should each state also be allowed to serve as a laboratory of technology?



Dept. of…

There’s also the question of which department would do the regulating. Currently, the Dept. of Transportation regulates how vehicles are built (seat belts, airbags, etc.), but states regulate the cars’ operation (like insurance and traffic laws).

When it comes to self-driving cars, however, how the car is designed governs how it’s operated. (Where’s the steering wheel? Does it still need to be a wheel? Could it be a joystick? Is a steering wheel needed at all?)

States – and the companies within them - want the freedom to test which designs, and operations, are ideal. The present regulatory structure may not work for a future technology.

What do you think?

Do you support the AV START Act? What about the SELF DRIVE Act? Should driverless cars be a state or federal issue? Do new technologies require new departments? Hit Take Action, tell your reps, then share your thoughts below.

— Josh Herman



Related Reading

(Photo Credit: Who Should Regulate…, Would you feel safe…: chombosan / iStockphoto)

(Photo Credit: When self-driving cars become sentient… : Menno van Dijk / iStockphoto)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(26)
  • burrkitty
    11/25/2017
    ···

    For myself and my family I personally cannot wait to have self driving cars. For my elderly father, who's reaction times cannot compare to a young adults and certainly not a computers it is about safety. For my sister, who's eyes are damaged from chemotherapy, it's about regaining lost freedoms. For myself, I simply dislike driving, preferring to look at the scenery rather than the road. For millions of Americans driving is not a pleasure. It's a duty, or a danger, or impossible for other reasons. For all of the disabled, who cannot drive. For the increasing numbers of elderly who maybe should not drive. For people like me, who would rather not have to drive, self driving cars are a much anticipated technology. I hope that the regulations will promote safety and innovation in support of this technology. I believe it's only a matter of time, and it would be better to anticipate rather then react in a haphazard fashion.

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  • Dan
    11/24/2017
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    This technology is coming sooner then we thinks, let’s get it done now.

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  • Lisa
    11/27/2017
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    Technology is great, but it’s something that can’t be rushed and miss used with every company racing to get there first. There are consequences for not knowing where Fast-paced technology which may lead us, to unintended results. ( as we have seen in the past and present. Technology can be great but is also dangerous in the wrong hands. Like Tim Cook said, technology wasn’t created to do anything, it’s made for you to be able to do what you want to do with it. Good or bad. Unfortunately.

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  • Gilbert
    11/24/2017
    ···

    We shouldn’t be afraid of the future. In the long run it will be safer than what we currently have.

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  • Stephanie
    11/22/2017
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    I don't have no Driver License yet.

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  • Ticktock
    11/24/2017
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    New tech always moves faster that society adapts. Legal systems will catch up only after fits and starts when incidents occur.

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  • Tooluser1
    11/24/2017
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    I spend my work day, every day repairing malfunctioning technology. There is NO WAY I have any desire to ride in or share the road with any machine controlled vehicle. Even if they are working *exactly* as programmed (which is HIGHLY unlikely) there's no possible way to program for all possible scenarios. Machines are NOT sentient (yet) and anything that could approach sentience is too big to put in a vehicle. Avoidable death WILL happen.

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  • Michael.J.L
    11/24/2017
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    It's coming, but with the way things are in the U.S. nowadays China will probably do it right 1st.

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  • Thelma
    11/26/2017
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    I am in favor of the move toward self-driving cars, and will feel most safe when all drivers are using them rather than a hodge-podge of safer self-driving car users and manual drivers. It would also be safest with one regulatory body, such as the Federal government. Please also consider energy sustainability in this equation.

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  • L0u15e.N032L
    11/26/2017
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    We need to monitor and not rush in with restrictive regulations. We need to ensure that people understand the risks until more have self driving cars. Regulations need to be able to look at "black boxes" on all cars to see what happened.

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  • tumblingit
    11/22/2017
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    The federal government had no constitutional authority to regulate this. It is definitely a states' issue. The desire to regulate it at a federal level is an abuse of power. History is full of examples of central governments centralizing power in this way, which leads to tyranny and collapse. We need to keep things decentralized.

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  • ManfromNebraska
    11/24/2017
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    Automakers struggle with defective equipment on regular cars. I don’t trust them to do much better with driverless cars. Who gets the ticket when one causes an accident. What if someone dies from the accident? I don’t think our technology is good enough for driverless cars. There are too many negative consequences from flaws and malfunctions. So I think we need to hit the brakes and back up on driverless cars.

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  • Pat
    11/26/2017
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    I would think that you would still have to have the manual mode and steering wheel just in case of a power grid or like maybe an accident that would knock out a traffic light or something. And less they were to use some type a magnet or laser I don’t know some kind of other sensor some different sensors you would probably have to go to manual mode. I would think the sooner the better because of the difference in sizes of of automobiles and trucks and semi‘s SUV. As soon as the engineers have provided us with the technology that’s safe to the best of their ability is probably safer than individuals driving under the influence, in times of medical passing out her look loss of ability to drive. I don’t know about you someone’s always tailgating me which could cause a multicar collision in my case I drive a full-size van with a full load of gas that’s going to blow it up to high heaven when it does happen I’ll be in it not a good deal. I would rather see cars driving all in one system mode as in like a video of how this is supposed to work where each cars going the proper speed making proper turns all preplanned and ready to stop in the event that an occurrence occurs occurs rather than someone just driving a radically and taking your life in other peoples on the rose into their own hands. I don’t feel safe driving the way we drive now there’s always some idiot weaving and bobbing I’m pulling in front of me and then just getting off right there at that exit instead of waiting till he gets to the exit they pull in front of you they do all kinds of crazy stuff now I think we need to weigh it out is it safe for the way we have it right now I don’t think so with all the pile ups that I’ve been seeing multi car but let’s think about this I think it’s a good thing just need to work into it and get the bugs out

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  • Joe
    11/26/2017
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    We should be pushing for smart federal regulations for self driving automobiles so we can get them on the road and tested.

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  • Stanley
    11/27/2017
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    The idea of a self driving car wirhout massive changes to the infrastructure is “driving” me crazy.

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  • Walter
    11/26/2017
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    Autonomous automobiles are the future…and the future is here now. Legislation, if any, should encourage continued and safe development of this technology.

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  • APavlovska
    11/28/2017
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    In the description the answer St to the question are imputed. The narrator jumped all over the place and put some ridiculous answers after “yer” and “no”. Some stupid example of 1 accident. Human driving card killed more people then wars now. Why don’t you ask how safe people feel when 90 years old driving the car??? Or person under influence ???

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  • Mitchell
    11/30/2017
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    Self driving cars are very good but there should never be a law that says we can’t drive anymore

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  • Robert
    11/24/2017
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    Even if they had the authority to do this what makes you think they can?

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  • Tooluser1
    11/24/2017
    ···

    I spend my work day, every day repairing malfunctioning technology. There is NO WAY I have any desire to ride in or share the road with any machine controlled vehicle. Even if they are working *exactly* as programmed (which is HIGHLY unlikely) there's no possible way to program for all possible scenarios. Machines are NOT sentient (yet) and anything that could approach sentience is too big to put in a vehicle. Avoidable death WILL happen.

    Like
    Follow
    Share