US House lawmakers yesterday unanimously approved a bill to give greater leeway to manufacturers to test next-generation AV technology. The development comes as major boost to the efforts of tech companies, Detroit manufacturers and urban planners who believe automated cars will transform the economy. (See: Major bill to speed up driver-less cars on roads to be voted in US House of Representatives)
The Self Drive Act, as the legislation is called, proposes a roadmap for the research and development of self-driving cars. The bill will allow companies that are building self-driving cars to apply for exemptions from the state and federal regulations governing safety and design, in a major step towards opening up to AV technology that will allow vehicles to navigate the streets themselves.
The bill paves the way for as many as 100,000 of the experimental cars to hit US roads every year, according to commentators.
Under the Self Drive Act automakers are also required to keep consumers fully informed about the companies' approach to privacy and cyber security - a key concern after hackers demonstrated how easily they could remotely hack and commandeer major systems of even ordinary cars. The legislation also calls on the Department of Transportation to review its own regulations, many of which define a car by reference to, for example, steering wheels and brake pedals in view of some AV designs that obviate the need for the features.
Representative Doris Matsui said the bill ''puts us on a path towards innovation which, up until recently, seemed unimaginable.''
Advocates hope self-driving cars would help reduce US road deaths, which increased 7.7 per cent in 2015, the highest annual jump since 1966. According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's 2014 study, US traffic crashes cost society $836 billion a year in economic loss, with 94 per cent of crashes caused by human error.
Consumer advocates are pushing for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to be given quicker access to crash data and more funding to oversee self-driving cars.
''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.