By on June 16, 2017

autonomous hardware

A coterie of Republican officials believe individual states should be forbidden from governing themselves in regard to autonomous vehicles. Only in its commencement, a new U.S. House proposal claims states would not be within their rights to mandate the design or testing of self-driving cars.

If made law, the proposal would eliminate the need for automakers to acquire any pre-market approval from federal regulators. While that sounds like a free-for-all ripe for accountability issues, several states already have laissez-faire or highly supportive attitudes when it comes to autonomous vehicles, though others could become serious headaches for automakers hoping to swiftly get the technology on the road.

The 45-page legislative draft includes 14 bills and would designate the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as the primary agency for regulating self-driving cars. It’s aggressively pro-business and, despite being penned by Republicans, has managed to achieve some bipartisan support. 

Ohio Congressmen Bob Latta (R), who heads a panel overseeing automobile regulation, called the draft legislation “an important step in establishing a framework to allow innovators to safely develop and test autonomous vehicles.” He said Republicans want “to continue working with all parties in a bipartisan manner as we refine language and move toward a consensus package.”

According to Reuters, that includes a bill allowing the U.S. Transportation Department to exempt up to 100,000 vehicles per year from meeting U.S. federal motor vehicle safety rules. Another would consider all autonomous vehicle testing data, validation reports, and crash information turned over to U.S. regulators to be “confidential business information.”

The vast majority of the proposal mainly serves to aide the industry in development of self-driving cars and protect its interests. Some will likely accuse the proposal of being irresponsible or playing solely into the needs of automakers. However, it would establish a basis of how this burgeoning technology is to handled, eliminating states’ ability to govern themselves in the process. That may seem unfair and, in some ways it is, but a lack of cohesion between rulemakers could leave development efforts dead in the water.

Under the draft, states would still set insurance and registration rules for autonomous vehicles but could not use them as a way to regulate self-driving technologies. California’s department of motor vehicles has fairly strict guidelines regarding the deployment of autonomous vehicles for public operation. It proposed revisions in April, but manufacturers were unsatisfied.

Mitch Bainwol, head of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, spoke to Congress on Wednesday. He called for the elimination of state or local laws that could “unduly burden or restrict the use of self-driving vehicles in the future.”

Assuming the packaged bills become law, it would be a major victory for the Alliance and any tech company trying its hand at autonomous development.

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

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19 Comments on “Republican Proposal Would Block States from Setting Self-driving Rules...”


  • avatar
    gomez

    It makes sense. The federal government sets vehicle safety and road design standards. Vehicles frequently cross state lines, so having a patchwork of rules from state-to-state would be a disaster.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      The flaw in your reasoning: a state like Wyoming can set the road safety rules in, say, Boston, where driving conditions are radically different, particularly when it comes to self-driving vehicles. Or vice versa. After all, “self-driving” on a deserted stretch of I-80 is pretty much the same thing as “self-driving” in Boston at 4 pm on a Friday afternoon.

      States and localities have a far better feel for this kind of issue than the feds do, I’d say.

      • 0 avatar
        notapreppie

        I’m just going to disagree with your core premise.

        An autonomous car HAS to work in both places unless lawmakers plan on banning cars that weren’t specifically programmed for their locality.

        No, this has to be done at the federal level and the requirement has to be that autonomous cars work in both rural Wyoming and urban Boston.

        • 0 avatar
          bikegoesbaa

          Why does the law have to be the same in both places?

          Is the speed limit the same in rural Wyoming and downtown Boston?

          • 0 avatar
            gomez

            No, the speed limits probably aren’t the same. But unless you want to keep vehicles from crossing state lines, the vehicle still has to be capable of driving in both places.

          • 0 avatar
            bikegoesbaa

            So why can’t Boston just require all cars to be primate-operated and ban autonomous cars within city limits until the local authorities determine they are sufficiently advanced to operate there?

            The cars could disable their own autonomous function via GPS when in a “no autonomous driving allowed” area, if necessary.

            What does federal oversight add to this?

          • 0 avatar
            APaGttH

            Speed limits don’t “move.”

            The interstate in Wyoming doesn’t pick itself up, and walk to Massachusetts.

            Vehicles on the other hand move, and the roads are connected between so they move freely. So an autonomous car can get by roadmap through various speed limits from Massachusetts to Wyoming.

            I for one see it a states right issue personally. But I see the difference between a vehicle that rolls down a road, and roadway standards applied in states.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          “Autonomous operation” on a rural stretch of Wyoming interstate is one thing. “Autonomous operation” on the streets of a densely populated city is another.

          The densely populated city might want to have a more stringent set of rules as a result in order to better protect its’ citizens. That sounds entirely reasonable to me, and it’s something that the people who drafted this bill don’t seem to get. That’s ironic, at best, since it came from a political organization that prizes “states’ rights” and “local control.”

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          If you can’t start fielding deserted freeway limited autonomous vehicles, before they are fully ready and tested (how???) to properly comport themselves while engaged in running gunbattles through rush hour Manhattan, you’ll never get self driving vehicles at all.

          First, you pick the low hanging fruit. Then, with earnings and leanings derived from those, you climb to the next branch up. And so on and so on.

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      Yah, I’m with you @gomez.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    States’ rights to regulate the horrible, life threatening burning question of whether whether a human being who has a penis can use the ladies’ room while wearing ladies’ clothing: Absolute. Inviolate. Grab your muskets, boys. #statesrights4ever.

    States’ rights to regulate safety on their own streets: Nope. Because…states’ rights don’t matter.

    It all begins to make sense now.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      +1. So much for that states rights , I suppose.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I wish I could say that Republicans are the only ones who are inconsistent on the states’ rights / feds’ rights issues…but this one makes no sense whatsoever.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          For any new, developing technology, you need one set of rules for design, manufacture and testing. Once the tech is sufficiently mature, you can have separate rules for the operation of that technology.

          You keep bringing up Wyoming and Boston – that’s operating. Developers of autonomous vehicles need one consistent set of rules for how they’re designed and tested.

          They’re two different issues, like US DOT dictating the lens colors of brake and turn signals to makers, and states having separate fines for misuse/non-use. In cases involving interstate commerce, the fed sets the rules and the states deal with local enforcement.

          • 0 avatar
            stuki

            “For any new, developing technology, you need one set of rules for design, manufacture and testing. Once the tech is sufficiently mature, you can have separate rules for the operation of that technology.”

            Only as long as that “one set of rules” is as loose and permissive as humanly possible, and pretty much entirely obvious. Otherwise, all you do is end up designing to rule, not real world. Like having the world’s transport ships designed to the kind of crazy rules racing sailbots are built to. And family cars designed to F1 rules.

            And hence, as long as “as loose and permissive as humanly possible” may differ on the Black Rock Dessert versus on Manhattan, all you do by imposing global rules, is stifle local creativity.

            For a, perhaps extreme, example; imagine enforcing “one set of rules for design, manufacture and testing of weapons” on Manhattan, as in BumEff Nevada….

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      The best I can figure is that if I need to use the restroom in Boston and Wyoming, I’ll figure it out. Worse case, I will feel embarrassed if I choose the wrong door. An autonomous vehicle certified for Wyoming won’t figure out Boston rules. I hope the driver knows to disable the bot, but the worse case here is someone dies.

  • avatar

    I’m not in favor of an unelected board in California determining how much I have to pay for a car, but if the people of California want to have CARB, that’s up to them. Likewise, I can see the need for federal standards for autonomous cars related to the FMVSS already in place, but I’m one of those folks who thinks the 50 individual states are laboratories for republican democracy and should have the authority to regulate motor vehicles as each sees fit.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      I’m one of those people in California, and I never voted for CARB’s existence. Like many other “boards” in the state, it claims to exercise powers delegated by the legislature, even powers the legislature is not allowed to delegate, and some powers the legislature doesn’t have.

      While I agree that the states are “laboratories of democracy”, their experiments must be limited to effects within their borders. The US Constitution specifically gives the federal government the power to regulate interstate commerce, and auto manufacturing of whatever type fits that description.

      Once autonomous vehicles have been developed, the states will be free to regulate the conditions of their sale and operation within their jurisdiction, with interstate travel being the only issue for “negotiation” between state and federal authorities (the feds always “win” those negotiations, since federal law trumps state/local law).

  • avatar
    Cash

    This is a fight between California and the feds or between Silicon Valley and Detroit about who makes the rules and who the rules are supposed to benefit.

    Auto industry probably feels it stands better chance of getting regulations it likes out of Washington than Sacramento. Or Detroit (and other car companies) think Washington is more likely to favor them over Google, Uber and all the other SV start ups.

    This has nothing to do with allowing Wyoming to go its own way. Nobody cares about Wyoming.


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