By on September 6, 2017

autonomous hardware

On Wednesday, the U.S. House unanimously approved a sweeping proposal to expedite the deployment of self-driving cars and prohibit states from blocking autonomous vehicle testing.

“With this legislation, innovation can flourish without the heavy hand of government,” Ohio Republican Bob Latta said on the House floor leading up to Wednesday’s vote. Latta is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that developed the legislation with support from tech companies and the automotive industry.

One thing missing from the House measure is large trucks, which the Senate hopes to address in its own bipartisan legislation. Congress announced a September 13th hearing to examine the role of autonomous commercial vehicles and how they may fit into the Senate’s pending self-driving legislation. Meanwhile, the House’s bill moves up the board to be put to a vote within the Senate at a later date. 

The proposal would allow automakers to obtain exemptions to deploy up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting existing automotive safety standards in the first year. That threshold would eventually rise to 100,000 vehicles annually. The bill also instructs the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to revise its existing standards to include self-driving cars.

Companies hoping to develop autonomous vehicles are also required to draft security and privacy plans that document their approach for ensuring safe testing, but they do not need regulatory approval to put them on the road. Manufacturers are, however, required to demonstrate self-driving cars are at least as mechanically safe as existing vehicles.

Safety was the word of the day prior to the House vote. Representatives took it upon themselves to remind their colleagues that U.S. road deaths rose 7.7 percent in 2015. However, the largest contributing factor to that statistic was a growing population. Still, the NHTSA cites human error as the primary cause for 94 percent of all crashes — making it the perfect bullet point to cap off the debate.

There was also the matter of keeping America competitive. “If we’re going to stay at the forefront of innovation and technology in this country, we have to be driving the technology for autonomous vehicles,” Michigan Democratic Representative Debbie Dingell stated before the vote. “I’m really proud of the fact that we got this out of the House. We kept our heads down.”

Despite the victory, some Democrats expressed concerns over the lack of input on the bill from the NHTSA — which still lacks any Trump-appointed leadership. Others questioned whether the federal government even had a right to impose these vehicles on individual states, including some consumer advocacy groups.

“The autonomous vehicle bill just passed by the House leaves a wild west without adequate safety protections for consumers. It pre-empts any state safety standards, but there are none at the national level,” the Consumer Watchdog group said in a statement.

According to Reuters, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is expected to unveil revised self-driving guidelines on Tuesday in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The department later confirmed its intentions to showcase the rules sometime next week.

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

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12 Comments on “House Unanimously Approves Proposal to Deploy Self-driving Cars, and Not Everyone’s Happy...”

  • avatar

    “With this legislation, innovation can flourish without the heavy hand of government”

    Clearly Mr Latta is confused.

  • avatar

    US House? Unanimous? How is this possible, I thought this group couldn’t even agree on a free lunch.

    • 0 avatar

      Checked to see if “The Onion.” No such luck.
      How about everyone just works from home instead,unless they actually build something and we save a giant pot of money and use that to replace Congress with robots that actually do what we tell them to do.

  • avatar

    Hmm, looks like we’ll get to see who’s greedy in the next few years. Safety rules are rarely enacted arbitrarily, and allowing folks to skip on them is rarely a great plan. Looks like the Autopilot will end up around in roughly its current capabilities for a long time yet.

    And I, for one, welcome our new fully-automated space startup overlords, and would like to remind them as a trusted engineer I could be helpful in rouding up others to participate in their sprawling NHSTA Series-A NBA YMCA GAAP events.

  • avatar

    I think the allowable numbers for “experimental units” is a bit high, though admittedly it would help towards group learning of roads, signals, etc. One brand in particular has been doing this already, albeit in “ghost mode” where it follows the driver’s inputs at each move.

  • avatar

    Ahh, the Politburo has spoken, who is behind the green curtain?

  • avatar

    Meh, compared to the hundreds of thousands of drunk, stoned and demented drivers on the road in my home state on any given day I’ll take my odds with robot cars.

  • avatar

    Some people are happy:

    (although they’ll probably get busted by the telematics)

    • 0 avatar

      That’s why many cars are now making dashcams standard equipment. Tesla is supposedly activating one of its navigation cameras to also record, meaning those staged crashes become very obvious and will get the perps arrested and charged with attempted fraud, along with all the traffic charges.

  • avatar

    “One thing missing from the House measure is large trucks, which the Senate hopes to address in its own bipartisan legislation.”

    Hey, I’ve got an idea: Why don’t we build special roads for these large trucks? That way, we could increase the capacity of these vehicles, perhaps even attach a bunch of the trailers together for efficiency, and maybe include metal rails in the roadway that match the track width of the vehicles’ wheels!

    Nah, too crazy…it’d never work.

    • 0 avatar

      Over 100 miles per gallon, per ton, I tells ya!

    • 0 avatar

      All sarcasm aside, it seems to me that the most efficient freight transport mode, were it not for massive highway subsidies, might well be:

      Rail transport to a terminal, followed by short-haul transport from the terminal to the final destination using electric or hybrid diesel-electric trucks.

      This is pretty much how things were done in 1890 (except the local transport was by horse or mule drawn wagon).

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