Hitting the gas on self-driving vehicle regulations

The self-driving car industry just received a significant push on what one lawmaker refers to as the path towards innovation once seemed unimaginable.

The U.S. House unanimously approved the first significant legislation that will accelerate the deployment of driverless vehicles. If enacted, federal regulators will be in the proverbial driver’s seat and strip power away from states seeking to block autonomous vehicles.

The sweeping measure allows manufacturers to secure exemptions that would allow the introduction of up to 25,000 vehicles in the first year while sidestepping existing auto safety standards. Over the course of the three years, the vehicle cap would increase to 100,000.

To receive the exemption, automakers must demonstrate that their autonomous cars are as safe as existing vehicles that require drivers. While pre-market approval of advanced vehicle technologies will not be required, they would still have to submit safety assessment reports to regulators.

States would no longer have authority over establishing performance standards. However, they can still establish rules on registration, licensing, liability, insurance and safety inspections.

The House bill also requires automakers to add a driver alert to check rear seating to prevent children from being left behind, along with performance standards for headlights.

While industry leaders, business groups and even advocates for the blind heralded the bill, consumer groups have expressed concerns over the measure not doing enough to ensure the safety of self-driving cars and their operators. The advocates fear that the House bill will create a “wild west without safety protections for consumers.”

The bill now goes to the Senate where lawmakers are looking to circulate their draft legislation soon.

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