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Congress Takes Steps to Start Regulating Autonomous Cars

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【Summary】Earlier this month, the Senate outlined what self-driving car regulations would look like in a published bipartisan document.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Jun 30, 2017 10:00 AM PT
Congress Takes Steps to Start Regulating Autonomous Cars

The United States government has taken a back seat approach to autonomous cars. A lot has happened since self-driving cars hit the scene, including a fatal accident involving a Tesla Model S in Florida, Uber ferrying its users around in driverless vehicles, and Google's autonomous cars covering two million miles. One would think that all that's happened would force the government's hand to regulate the tech, but that just hasn't happened yet. 

Senate Finally Gets Into Gear

Well, according to Wired, that's about to change. According to the outlet, the Senate published bipartisan principles earlier this month that outline what legislation could look like. Wired claims that House Republicans started to disseminate drafts of a 14-bill package that would make it easier for regulators to make rules for autonomous cars. 

Congress, as Wired points out, isn't interested in creating a few guidelines for autonomous companies to follow, but wants to create all-new rules, allowing it to make regulations that the entire nation should abide by. While that sounds like a good thing, Wired claims that there are some problems with Congress taking over. 

As the outlet reports, self-driving cars don't exactly fit into the government's regulatory structure. Currently, the Department of Transportation outlines the requirements for a car on the road, and, as Wired points out, that includes requiring vehicles to have seat belts, airbags, and crumple zones. But that's not all the DOT does, it also regulates how cars operate on the roads, including traffic laws, licensing, and insurance. 

Congress Faces An Uphill Battle

There's no way to break down how an autonomous car should work under the DOT's current framework. While requiring self-driving cars to have airbags, crumple zones, and seat belts would be easy enough, regulating how the vehicles operate would be more difficult. 

With the federal government allowing states like California, Wisconsin, Texas, and more, to create their own guidelines for self-driving cars, it would be difficult to overwrite laws that already in place. California, for instance, requires companies that are testing driverless cars in the state to make data publicly available on what the vehicles are doing and any accidents that occur, reports Wired. If Congress were to take over, that data may not be made public anymore. 

The proposed legislation, as Wired claims, would increase the number of exempt cars on the road to 100,000 up from just 2,500, which is something companies and automakers want. Giving those testing autonomous vehicles the ability to add more cars to their fleets would accelerate testing and help them reach the outrageous goal of having self-driving vehicles on the road by the end of the decade. 

Safety advocates, though, are still concerned about an autonomous future. "Developing the appropriate thresholds of safety should be informed by research," said Nidhi Kalra, an autonomous vehicle policy expert and director of the Rand Center for Decision Making Under Uncertainty, at a House hearing earlier this year. 

With the House Energy and Commerce Committee planning to hold a hearing on the legislation later this month, Congress could formally introduce a bill and pass it by the end of July, states Wired. While the federal government has kept its nose out of regulating self-driving cars for years, it looks like Congress is finally stepping up and setting the record straight. 

via: Wired

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