A trio of U.S. senators from both sides of the aisle took a theoretically important step in addressing the big issue of how government will regulate a road full of self-driving cars, recommending ways to write related legislation. It’s a step, but as you might expect, it’s nowhere near close to answering all our questions about autonomous vehicles.
The senators, made up of Republican John Thune and Democrats Gary Peters and Bill Nelson, released these proposals on Tuesday. They cover a lot of ground, with guidelines like clarifying the responsibilities of federal and state regulators, emphasizing safety, stressing education and remaining “tech neutral”: i.e., not developing rules that favor one company with a different set of needs over another.
But it’s hardly a definitive framework. The senators failed to mention whose safety they mean, the difference between near-term and long-term regulatory oversight as it relates to safety, or anything deep or specific beyond platitudes like “promote innovation.”
Other principles included ensuring the public remain informed about the differences between self-driving and non self-driving vehicles, which is completely not obvious at all, and ensuring the public sector not favor some business over others, some of whom have already begun lobbying Congress for laxer rules requiring cars to have steering wheels and brake pedals.
Despite the vague document, it is extremely important legislators are discussing the issue in the first place. Lawmakers need to be aggressive in planning for the future of car technology. Cars that drive themselves have the potential to save thousands of lives each year and revolutionize mobility across the globe.
But the innovation doesn’t come without a whole host of legal issues, ranging from changing laws requiring a driver be at the wheel at all times, to implementing new infrastructure to work with self-driving sensors, to ensuring cybersecurity allows for secure vehicle-to-vehicle communication.
A key issue going forward will be how the federal government and state governments can work together to regulate a fleet of autonomous vehicles.
Currently, many auto-related laws vary depending on the state you’re in, such as the age you can get your permit, speed limits, carpool lanes, penalties for drunk driving and so on. However, the federal Department of Transportation has already started outlining how it may regulate the AD roadway going forward.
The three senators will hold a hearing today to discuss self-driving research and ramifications with representatives from a number of interest groups, including the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
No one has the answers yet, but we have to start somewhere.
The hearing will take place in the Russell Senate Office Building at 10 a.m. Here’s a link to watch the live-stream, if you so desire.