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Congress Debating on How to Properly Regulate Autonomous Technology

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【Summary】Safety and liability continue to be the major points of contention in a recent House hearing that was tasked with assessing rules surrounding autonomous vehicles and the public rollout of the technology.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Feb 14, 2020 8:30 AM PT
Congress Debating on How to Properly Regulate Autonomous Technology

Autonomous vehicles may be on public roads, giving human passengers rides without a human driver, but things have come to a standstill with the U.S. government when it comes to regulating the technology. Congress has attempted to take steps toward regulating autonomous vehicles in the past few years, but bills have fallen short, as lawmakers struggle to find ways to regulate the technology to ensure it's safe. Unfortunately, things aren't going all that well.

House Remains Divided

As Consumer Reports outlines in a lengthy article, a hearing of the House Consumer Protection Subcommittee met to assess new rules surrounding autonomous technology. The House, unfortunately, was divided in what they believed was the right way to move forward with self-driving cars, as they're looking for the perfect way to ensure they're safe, while still promoting healthy competition. High-profile crashes, mainly including Tesla's Autopilot system, which are being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Boards, are part of what's causing some division.

The hearing revealed that while lawmakers are eager to see how autonomous vehicles impact America's economy going forward, individuals in the subcommittee have questions about safety and liability surrounding autonomous cars. That, reportedly, is one of the reasons why the "self-driving car bill" that came out in 2017 went nowhere.

Representative Frank Pallone, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, brought up NTSB investigators' findings surrounding the fatal Uber incident involving a pedestrian. Pallone pointed out that NTSB investigators found that the autonomous vehicle hadn't been able to detect common road hazards – pointing toward possible areas where public support for the technology could wane.

Fine Line For Regulations

"Troubling safety incidents, regulatory black holes, and lax oversight threaten to disrupt this critical balance and the future of this technology itself," said Pallone. "Regulators must have the expertise to understand self-driving technology and not just rely on the assurances of technology companies."

The issue with regulating autonomous vehicles is that regulations may slow down the rollout of new technology and make things difficult for companies. If that were to happen, companies would look to other countries as better locations to develop and test the technology. The U.S. certainly wouldn't want that. China and the UK come to mind for other prime locations for companies.

"The U.S. has fallen behind, and we will continue to fall behind if we fail to act," said Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers. "If we fail, this transformative technology will go abroad."

Tech companies and automakers believe that the first autonomous vehicles on the road will be delivery cars and not personal vehicles. But the self-driving delivery machines will still have to share the road with human drivers, so safety is a concern. The Department of Transportation recently gave permission to Nuro for its autonomous cargo shuttles and we're sure the government will keep a close eye on how the company's car does and use that information in a future bill.

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