If we have learned anything from the history of innovations around the world, then we know that innovation doesn’t really go well with regulation. The logic is usually simple, the freer innovators are the easier it will be for them to invent. However, there are some innovations that could really use some level of sensible regulation and self-driving cars are one of them.
This week, a self-driving car hit and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona. It was the first fatality associated with an autonomous vehicle which brought to attention the need for sensible regulatory policies on self-driving tests.
But the Trump administration has maintained a non-interference policy with a series of deregulations in various industries. This is the same approach that the Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is taking.
The federal government has left this in the hands of individual states. States can set their own rules regarding autonomous car safety. Most states have already shown that they are ready to welcome autonomous cars on their roads. However, the Tempe incident could call for more caution moving forward.
States still need to comply with federal vehicle safety standards revised by the NHTSA. Regulations by the government agency require that every test should be done with the presence of a human driver and the vehicle must have manual controls for steering, braking and acceleration. A request by General Motors to have this regulation revised has been sitting on NHTSA’s desk for nearly two months now. No action has been taken yet and for an agency that doesn’t have a permanent administrator, it’s not hard to see why.
The Senate has also tried to remove some of these restrictive regulations. US Senators Gary Peters and John Thune have proposed a new bill that would remove the requirement for manual controls when testing self-driving cars. However, the proposal has already raised some concerns among a few other lawmakers who think that this bill must not interfere with traditional traffic laws.
The self-driving technology is almost ready. Companies like Uber, Tesla, and Waymo have already demonstrated that they have the ability to produce these cars and the challenge now lies in deployment.
How will these companies deploy autonomous vehicles while guaranteeing public safety?
Experts say that the current regulatory framework on highway safety at the federal and state level is not in tandem with the rapidly changing car industry. In order for states to maximize the benefits of this new technology, there’s need for a revision of current traffic safety laws in order to accommodate autonomous vehicles.
Besides, reliable evidence has shown that autonomous vehicles have the potential to prevent nearly 94% of vehicle accidents. But getting over the safety issues will take some time. The California DMV has received 59 collision reports involving self-driving since 2014. Most of these collisions were minor but it’s clear that there are still issues in the early testing.