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A public policy blog from AEI
Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling. But beyond that, there may be no more important priority right now than passing legislation to accelerate the introduction of autonomous vehicles. US highway deaths are climbing, and the economic loss from auto accidents is nearly $1 trillion a year.
Good news, then, that the House has unanimously approved a bill that would clearly establish federal supremacy over state rules when it comes to design, construction, and performance issues. So no patchwork of conflicting states laws, a scenario that AV companies in Detroit and Silicon Valley were desperate to avoid.
And while automakers would need to submit safety assessment reports to regulators, there’s no requirement of pre-market approval of these advanced AV technologies. That sounds like real-world permissionless innovation to me. Or as the Niskanen Center’s Ryan Hagemann puts it, the proposal “establishes a clear roadmap for integrating autonomous vehicles on American roadways without unduly burdening ongoing research and development into this potentially life-saving technology.”
The SELF DRIVE Act would also allow automakers to deploy up to 25,000 vehicles (though not large trucks, apparently), ten times the current number, “without meeting existing auto safety standards in the first year, a cap that would rise to 100,000 vehicles annually over three years,” Reuters reports. This means a lot more data for both companies and regulators to examine and use.
Next steps? Well, onto the Senate. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, and Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, are leading the way there, though they will have to navigate a busy fall legislative schedule, including passing a budget, raising the debt ceiling, and passing tax reform. And Recode’s Tony Romm notes that Trump administration is expected to issue its own voluntary guidelines as early next week, an update of policy first put forward during the Obama administration. More from Romm on that:
The Transportation Department’s safety watchdog — the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — still has no permanent director. Trump hasn’t even nominated anyone to the post. NHTSA, however, is tasked in the House’s just-passed bill with writing new safety rules around the construction of self-driving cars. Meanwhile, a panel of industry executives advising the U.S. government on driverless-car technology essentially has fallen apart under Trump. The group hasn’t met even once, sources told Recode.
But generally the government seems to be doing what it should to speed deployment to the extent the technology allows. And while consumer activists want tougher safety requirements and unions think legislators are hand-waving away concerns about job loss, the potential upside — including both saved lives and a major economic boost among other benefits — is creating its own momentum. This from Timothy Lee of Ars Technica, via Twitter: “So many people were worried about government getting in the way of self-driving that it doesn’t seem to be happening.” Yeah!
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