Congress Takes Step Towards Embracing Automotive Innovation

The House acted unanimously to advance automotive innovation through the passage of the H.R. 3388, the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution (SELF DRIVE) Act. The proposal would establish a clear regulatory framework for companies involved in the development of autonomous vehicles, and makes it easier for innovators to improve the technology. The legislation next proceeds to the Senate.

The most significant provision in the SELF DRIVE Act would prevent states from enacting legislation “regarding the design, construction, or performance of highly automated vehicles, automated driving systems, or components of automated driving systems” that impose a greater burden on innovators than SELF DRIVE’s standards. While some may have concerns about Congress restricting states’ abilities to regulate automotive technology, the SELF DRIVE Act came about in response to automakers’ concerns about an emerging patchwork of laws and regulations across a number of states. Innovation should not be stifled due to differing standards, and Congress has a responsibility to address this problem.

The SELF DRIVE Act also would exempt some cars from existing automotive standards over the next three years. Under the terms of the bill, automotive manufacturers may develop 25,000 exempted vehicles in the first year, 50,000 in the second year, and 100,000 in the third year. This exemption would allow for further testing and improvement of autonomous vehicles without developers having to worry about regulations like emissions standards.

Autonomous vehicles could provide a massive benefit to the economy and general well-being. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures show that there were over 6 million crashes in 2016 which resulted in 40,000 fatalities and 2.5 million injuries. Given that approximately 94 percent of crashes are attributable to human error, fully-developed autonomous vehicle technology offers the opportunity to substantially reduce crashes,insurance costs, hospital and rehabilitation expenses, legal and court fees, and car replacements.

Other potential benefits exist as well. More efficient driving could cut back substantially on the 42 hours a year Americans spend, on average, sitting in traffic.As autonomous driving technology is perfected, this breakthrough will enable the ability for people to work or pursue other productive endeavors while they commute. Autonomous vehicle technology would also allow the elderly and disabled increased mobility, and cut back on the incidence of drunk and distracted driving.

The SELF DRIVE Act also does include a potentially significant unfunded mandate. Section 10 of the bill requires that, within two years of enactment, new vehicles be equipped with an alert system to check rear seats for children after a car has been turned off. This provision could increase manufacturing costs for new vehicles, resulting in price increases for consumers.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzed the impact of the SELF DRIVE Act. The CBO determined that the legislation would cost approximately $10 million over ten years. The majority of the estimated cost, $9 million, comes from the CBO’s estimate that CBO would have to hire 12 new employees at a cost of $175,000 annually per employee.

With such massive potential benefits, it is an encouraging sign that Congress is being proactive about autonomous vehicle technology. Hopefully, Congress will continue to do its best to foster, rather than hinder, automotive innovation.