Cautious lawmakers and safety advocates are urging Congress to approach the issue of driverless cars with a healthy degree of skepticism.
The watchdogs are asking that lawmakers thoroughly inspect and certify the safety of driverless vehicles before automakers can begin increasing live road tests. They also suggested that Congress should cut down on the number of driverless vehicles currently plying American roadways, saying the situation is quickly devolving into one which might end in tragedy.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) opined that legislators shouldn’t be moving bills out of the House Energy and Commerce panel related to driverless cars without input from the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“This is a big moment for us,” said Pallone. “We need to be sure that we get this right and that safety is the first priority.”
Driverless cars have generally been posited by their manufacturers as a way to drastically reduce the number of highway deaths per annum.
Republican Robert Latta, chairman of the Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection subcommittee, said he hoped technology could put a 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 many lawmakers have been optimistic about the notion of self-driving cars, watchdogs are asking the government to play a more proactive role in creating a framework to regulate their presence on the road and ensure they’re behaving safely.
“We think that before automated vehicles are put on the roads, they should be required to go through a functional safety evaluation,” said Cathy Chase, vice president of governmental affairs for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “We think that’s a very basic precursor.”
Several bills currently under consideration ‘would allow for expansion in on-road testing of autonomous vehicles, which companies want so they can prove the safety of the vehicles and foster popular acceptance,’ writes Bloomberg.
A number of technology firms and major automakers have expressed an interest in expanding their experiments with driverless-cars. Apple and Google have both begun leasing cars en masse from rental companies. GM and Ford have also begun making forays into a market wherein Tesla seems to steal all the headlines.
Bloomberg notes that the Obama administration released a number of ‘voluntary guidelines’ regulating the deployment of driverless vehicles, which automobile manufacturers says gives them leeway without being too rigid or restrictive.