US House loosens self-driving car regulations

The US House of Representatives has passed new legislation which serves to loosen the regulations on autonomous or 'self-driving' vehicles operated within the country.

An Uber self driving car in San Francisco, California. Image courtesy of Uber Technologies.
An Uber self driving car in San Francisco, California. Image courtesy of Uber Technologies.

Known as the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act, or ‘SELF DRIVE’, the Act is aimed to accelerate the development of this technology.

Specifically, the legislation allows automakers to have exceptions to certain safety standards which are believed to be unnecessary for autonomous vehicles.

Such standards include the necessity for all vehicles on US roads to have control pedals and a steering wheel, as well as other restrictions.

Under the framework of the SELF DRIVE Act, automakers would be granted an initial 25,000 exceptions to these laws in order to test new autonomous vehicles.

This figure would then increase to 100,000 vehicle exceptions over the next 3 years should it proceed in its current form.

Before this, however, the bill will also have to be passed by the US Senate, something which has served as a stumbling block for many pieces of legislation in the past.

Nonetheless, SELF DRIVE Act has many powerful backers. Among these is a lobbying group which calls itself the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, which represents major companies like Google, Ford, Uber, Lyft and Volvo.

This Coalition praised the bill, saying it would help spur innovation in the sector.

“Self-driving vehicles offer an opportunity to significantly increase safety, improve transportation access for underserved communities, and transform how people, goods and services get from point A to B,” said David Strickland, the lobby group’s general counsel.

“…we look forward to working with members of the House and Senate to enact autonomous vehicle legislation that enhances safety, creates new mobility opportunities, and facilitates innovation.”

Another important facet of the new Act is that by nature of it being federal legislation, it stops states for unilaterally banning autonomous vehicles.

As well, it goes some way to mitigate the kind of legal confusion created by self-driving tests which did not have state-level approval, such as that which embroiled Uber earlier this year.