A House sub-committee advanced a bill Wednesday that would ease restrictions on self-driving cars.
Despite pleas from safety watchdogs to cap the continued testing and manufacture of autonomous vehicles, the legislation, if signed into law, would permit automakers to put together up to 100,000 self-driving cars per year.
The Hill notes that, if the bill makes it off Capitol Hill and into the White House, it’d be the first law to address the new industry.
Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH), the chairman of the Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection subcommittee, has been a vocal proponent of the budding technology. He hopes that the advent and spread of autonomous vehicles could put a serious dent in the 40,000 highway fatalities which occur in the United States every year.
“Our goal today is to enact the right policies to encourage self-driving technologies that can drastically reduce those numbers,” Latta said while advocating for the legislation in late June.
“We don’t have to accept a world where millions of accidents and thousands of fatalities on the roadway are a necessary evil of driving,” he said. “In a nation of 320 million, each year approximately 6 million Americans are involved in vehicular accidents, resulting in nearly 2 million injuries.”
Under the confines of the bill, automakers would still have to submit safety reports to regulators. However, they’d be free to manufacture and test new vehicles without having to first obtain pre-market approval.
Some critics fear that the mania surrounding self-driving cars could spell a recipe for disaster.
Among those urging caution is Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), who has questioned the sense in pushing along bills on self-driving cars without first requesting feedback from the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“This is a big moment for us,” said Pallone. “We need to be sure we get this right and that safety is the first priority.”
Pallone’s not alone, either.
Cathy Chase, vice president of governmental affairs for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, offered her perspective on the then-pending legislation, too.
“We think that before automated vehicles are put on the roads, they should be required to go through a functional safety evaluation,” she said. “We think that’s a very basic precursor.”
Chase and Pallone aren’t likely to be pleased by the House subcommittee’s sweeping proposal, which exempts autonomous vehicles from certain safety regulations and restricts states from coming up with their own rules to curtail the usage of self-driving cars.
The issue of finding a way to make driving in the United States safer is more important than ever, with traffic deaths spiking in 2015 and rising by nearly 8 percent in the first nine months of 2016.
Proponents of self-driving cars point to the safety record of designs manufactured and tested by companies like Tesla and General Motors, which recorded fewer accidents per set number of road miles than their piloted peers.