Critics Worry Over Safety If 'Self Drive Act' Passes

States wouldn't hold sway over design, construction of autonomous vehicles
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 6, 2017 9:50 AM CDT
Fate of Self-Driving Cars to Go to House Vote
In this Dec. 13, 2016, file photo, a Waymo driverless car is displayed during a Google event in San Francisco.   (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

As Uber, Waymo, and other Silicon Valley companies duke it out on the autonomous-vehicle scene, a House vote Wednesday will determine how and when those vehicles hit US roads. The Mercury News reports on the ballot-casting for the so-called "Self Drive Act," which spells out what role states would have over self-driving cars. Specifically, it bars states from playing a role in the vehicles' design, construction, or performance. Companies in their first year of production would be able to put on the road up to 25,000 autonomous vehicles; that cap would rise to 100,000 over three years. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy says the act promises to make the US transportation landscape "safer and more efficient," while an analyst notes that the first nation to get such cars up and running would become "one of the leaders in the global tech scene."

But the legislation has others worried that safety will be a side note in the rush to take these cars to market, with states mostly cut out of the picture and "no enforceable [federal] safety standards," per a spokesman from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Washington Post, which says the act can offer "a rare bipartisan win on a high-profile issue," notes that a big issue critics have with the legislation is that carmakers would be able to apply for exemptions from federal safety standards, as long as they can prove that their design is as safe as that of traditional cars. What states would still have control over, per Recode and Reuters: registration and licensing requirements and safety inspections, among other items, as well as whether autonomous vehicles can use their roads at all. The Post also covers how commercial trucks fit into the picture. (More self-driving car stories.)

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