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  • Writer's pictureEdward Lehman

National Legislators Bottleneck to Advancing Autonomous Vehicles in U.S.

In November, Hyundai received approval to begin testing a fleet of fully driverless cars in Las Vegas after the State of Nevada granted the company permission to operate its autonomous vehicles without a human safety driver behind the wheel.

California has at least five companies that are either testing, or preparing to test, autonomous vehicles on its roads.

Deploying vehicles without safety drivers on public roads is a major risk most autonomous vehicle operators have been extremely cautious about taking, though the State of Nevada has issued permits to companies with less stringent rules about public operation than California.

The biggest challenge facing the development of autonomous cars is not money or technology, but legal and ethical concerns.

Companies are required to test autonomous vehicles on public roads with real cyclists, pedestrians and bystanders who did not sign up to be "part of the test," and that is not only the uncharted legal territory for public and private institutions, but also the biggest stumbling block currently confronting United States Congress.

Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation have issued suggestions on best practices that states should consider in driver regulation, but what has failed so far is national legislation.

Both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have had bills introduced relating to federal legislation of autonomous vehicles, but no action has been taken on either of them, particularly after several Senators raised concerns about the following issues:

  • The extent to which Congress should alter traditional vehicle regulation, with the federal government being responsible for vehicle safety and states for driver-related aspects such as licensing and registration, as the roles of driver and vehicle merge.

  • The number of autonomous vehicles that NHTSA should permit to be tested on highways by granting exemptions to federal safety standards, and which specific safety standards can be relaxed to permit thorough testing.

  • How much detail legislation should contain related to addressing cybersecurity threats, including whether federal standards should require vehicle technology that could report and stop hacking of critical vehicle software, as well as how much information car buyers should be given about these issues.

  • The extent to which vehicle owners, operators, manufacturers, insurers and other stakeholders have access to data that is generated by autonomous vehicles, and the rights of various parties to sell vehicle-related data to others.

U.S. DOT has indicated that it wants to revise regulations for autonomous vehicles, such as redefining the terms “driver” and “operator” to indicate that a human being does not always have to be in control of a motor vehicle. The department has also said it plans to require changes in standards for the inspection, repair, and maintenance of federally regulated commercial trucks and buses.

Protecting autonomous vehicles from hackers is of paramount concern to federal and state governments, manufacturers and service providers. Even with advances in technology to current automobiles, hackers have more than a dozen portals to enter even a conventional vehicle’s electronic systems, including the airbag, the lighting system, and the tire pressure monitoring system.

Additionally, and of most concern to data privacy advocates, there are no laws that preclude manufacturers and software providers from reselling data about individual vehicles and drivers to third parties.

AmChamUSA supports federal and state legislations that promotes autonomous vehicles and unmanned aerial systems, as major corporations are increasingly seeking out this technology to deliver goods, inspect critical infrastructure and create efficiencies in supply chain management, along with countless other applications that will create efficiencies and boost bottom lines.

AmChamUSA believes state and federal officials, as well as agencies such as NHTSA and U.S. DOT have a path to appropriately legislating the future of autonomous vehicles in the U.S.

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