By Jon LeSage
Automakers and ride-hailing firm Lyft have asked Congress to unify self-driving car guidelines by a national standard.
Executives from Toyota, General Motors, Volvo, and Lyft urged lawmakers in Washington yesterday to unify the patchwork of state laws governing testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles. The federal government has constitutional authority to override conflicting state laws, they said.
Laws, and enforcement of them, are varying by state. California has become known for sparring with companies including ride-hailing firm Uber, over self-driving test protocols. Michigan’s recently adopted rules are considered to be much broader, making room for fully autonomous vehicle to eventually be allowed on the state’s public roads.
Nine states – California, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia, along with Washington D.C. – have passed legislation related to autonomous vehicles, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The association also said that governors in Arizona and Massachusetts issued executive orders related to autonomous vehicles.
This patchwork of varying and conflicting state laws threatens to hold back innovation, said Lyft government relations vice president Joseph Okpaku in testimony before a House subcommittee. Legislators in more than 20 states have proposed nearly 60 bills to regulate self-driving vehicles since January 1, he said.
Lyft is looking forward to test driving autonomous Chevy Bolts with partner company General Motors. The two companies are preparing to test out a fleet of self-driving Bolt taxis beginning this year. GM has already started testing out 50 of these electric vehicles in California and Michigan.
GM would like to the U.S. Department of Transportation secretary have power over the question.
Congress should grant authority to the Transportation secretary “to grant specific exemptions for highly automated vehicle development,” said Michael Ableson, a General Motors vice president, during a hearing.
These companies were likely pleased to hear the September announcement by then-DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx issuing long-awaited federal guidelines on testing and developing fully autonomous vehicles. The DOT called for uniform nationwide policies applying to autonomous vehicles.
State and federal lawmakers have been concerned about laws keeping up with self-driving vehicle technology breakthroughs. Car shoppers can now purchase semi-autonomous, connected car features; some auto executives predict that fully automated vehicles could be available within five years.
The Congressional subcommittee gave signs of bipartisan support for the development of autonomous vehicles. They were noticeable silent over the question of adopting a national standard that would override state rules, according to USA Today.
Toyota Research Institute CEO Gill Pratt expressed concerns over vehicle safety. A federal standard should be clear on how safe autonomous vehicles should be on roads. The public won’t support the new technology until that issue is addressed, he said.
“Society tolerates a significant amount of human error on our roads. We are, after all, only human,” he testified. “Humans show nearly zero tolerance for injuries or deaths caused by flaws in a machine.”
The Obama administration made statements about supporting self-driving car technology as a way to eliminate road fatalities within 30 years. The Trump administration so far hasn’t been clear about policy on autonomous vehicles.
For now, states are leading the way.
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