This week marks another important step in what has been a busy year in policy developments for autonomous and connected vehicles. On Tuesday, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold its first hearing exclusively focused on self-driving cars. This comes on the heels of several recent, noteworthy actions in this space:
- The Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that it will update its 2013 guidance on autonomous vehicles,
- Clarification from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that autonomous intelligence systems piloting a self-driving vehicle could be considered a driver under federal law and interpretation on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) authority and limitations, and,
- Problematic draft rules from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles were proposed which highlight the need for continued federal leadership and guidance.
These steps by DOT and NHTSA to promote further investment into autonomous vehicles are critically important to the marketplace, the economy, and most importantly the safety of the American public.
But Tuesday’s Senate hearing is important because it is becoming increasingly clear existing NHTSA authority may not be broad enough to create rules that fully enable companies to innovate in this space and make self-driving vehicles widely available in the market. The Administration itself has even acknowledged the potential lack of authority, noting in the FY2017 budget that “[n]ew authorities may be needed when they are necessary to ensure that fully autonomous vehicles, including those designed without a human driver in mind, are deployable in large numbers when demonstrated to provide an equivalent or higher level of safety than is now available.”
As ITI’s Dean Garfield has testified, bringing autonomous vehicles to market as soon as can safely be done will result in benefits both quantifiable and unimaginable for the American public.
It is estimated that roughly 90% of accidents can be prevented with automated vehicles. Countless other benefits, both economic and societal, will be derived from autonomous and connected vehicles, including increased productivity from time not spent focusing on driving, decreased congestion, and fuel savings from less congested roadways. Another related benefit will be the increased mobility for individuals who are not currently capable of operating a vehicle today, namely the elderly, disabled, and youth. Autonomous vehicles promise new freedoms and opportunities for independence by providing them with much more convenient, safe, and flexible transportation options than may currently be available to these populations.
We are very pleased Congress is looking seriously at these issues, and Tuesday’s hearing will provide an excellent forum to learn where this technology stands, and what regulatory hurdles need to be cleared to further promote innovation and investment in autonomous driving. It will take Congress, DOT, NHTSA, and the technology and automotive sectors working together to bring autonomous vehicles to market and provide the American public the countless benefits that come from these exciting new technologies.