House Votes to Speed Up Deployment of Driverless Cars
The House voted this week to speed the introduction of driverless cars by giving the federal government the authority to exempt automakers from safety standards that are not applicable to the technology. According to an Associated Press news report, the House’s vote will also permit the deployment of up to 100,000 of the vehicles annually over the next several years.
Getting Cars on the Road
State and local officials have expressed concerns that it limits their ability to protect the safety of their citizens by giving the federal government the power to regulate the vehicles’ design and performance. States would still have the authority to decide whether to allow driverless cars on the roads. While the federal government regulates the vehicle, states regulate motorists.
Federal legislators are essentially responding to automakers’ complaints that a patchwork of laws states have passed in recent years would slow down or stall the deployment of driverless vehicles, which is widely viewed as the future of the auto industry. Supporters of driverless cars bill this technology as a way to significantly lower traffic fatalities because 94 percent of crashes involve human error. The bill the House passed allows the deployment of up to 25,000 self-driving vehicles in its first year increasing to 100,000 vehicles annually in the third year.
The Issue of Safety
Despite the enthusiasm of legislators to clear the way for driverless cars, consumer and safety groups say they remain concerned the bill will weaken safety standards and undermine public acceptance of the vehicles if defective autonomous vehicles led to car accidents and worse – fatalities. Automakers argue that safety standards pertaining to car parts such as steering wheels and brake pedals simply don’t make sense for driverless cars. However, safety advocates say the bill could allow the government to exempt self-driving cars from occupant protection and crashworthiness standards as well.
As auto defect lawyers, we are deeply concerned about legislators’ attempts to undermine safety laws in an attempt to get these driverless cars out on our roadways. While we are not averse to groundbreaking technology, we do worry about consumer safety. Putting driverless cars that are not equipped with adequate occupant safety features or that don’t pay attention to crashworthiness can hold catastrophic consequences.