The race to build self-driving cars continues to accelerate at a breakneck pace. Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., and other manufacturers are trying to outpace each other in the autonomous vehicle industry now valued in the billions of dollars.
They and their supporters claim that the technology being developed would significantly reduce the number of U.S. highway deaths each year. Last year, the number of vehicle related fatalities reached 40,000, along with two million injuries.
However, consumer and safety advocates seem to be pumping the brakes, at least temporarily. They are expressing concerns about self-driving cars hitting the roads in large numbers without processes to evaluate their safety. Specifically, they want more functional testing and mandatory safety certification by manufacturers.
Currently, U.S. House lawmakers are debating the first federal legislation governing autonomous vehicles. The Senate is working on their own measures to create an approval process for those vehicles.
Republican Robert Latta, chairman of the Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection subcommittee, believes that federal regulators, not states, should oversee vehicle safety. Federal oversight is something that automakers and technology companies also want to see as opposed to a patchwork of different rules and regulations depending on the state.
To bolster their efforts, Ford Motor Co. has invested $1 billion into artificial intelligence startup Argo AI. General Motors Co. pumped $500 million into Lyft Inc. and expanded its fleet of self-driving electric cars being tested from 50 to 180 in Detroit, San Francisco and Scottsdale.
Non-auto manufacturers are also stepping up their game. Apple, Inc. is teaming with Hertz Global Holdings, Inc. to test self-driving technology with a small fleet of cars. Waymo has allied with Avid Budget Group to manage its fleet.
Currently, automation systems are already on the market. However, the vehicles are limited to driverless braking and crash-avoidance technologies. Automakers and technology companies are still miles away from fully automated driverless cars hitting the roads.