This Tuesday, US Senate panel members and companies involved in the emerging self-driving vehicles industry have called for national regulation of autonomous cars because they fear that state-level regulation will result in a confusing assortment of rules that will slow down development. As expected, one of the loudest propagators of this idea was Google, i.e. the head of Alphabet Inc’s self-driving vehicle program Chris Urmson. “”If every state is left to go its own way without a unified approach, operating self-driving cars across state boundaries would be an unworkable situation,” stated Urmson in front of the Senate Commerce Committee, adding that such a scenario would severely cripple endeavors of major automakers related to autonomous vehicles. This stance is neither new nor surprising as Google was already pretty open about its dissatisfaction with state guidelines on self-driving creations in the past. For example, the recently drafted regulations in California were met with an extremely negative response from the tech giant in December.
Representatives of General Motors Co, Delphi Automotive PLC, and Lyft supported Google’s statements, adding that a plethora of differing regulations from each separate state is impeding development, testing, and consequently deployment of their autonomous vehicles. Vice president of government relations at the ride-sharing company Lyft Joseph Okpaku described an inconsistent patchwork of related laws as “the worst possible scenario” for the growth of the driverless vehicles industry. Even Senator Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat agreed that “consistent national policy” on the issue should be a priority for the government. The rules in question are supposed to determine the requirements self-driving cars need to fulfill in order to be allowed on public roads. As state-level regulations would prevent driving over state lines, this naturally makes the idea of purchasing a driverless car much less appealing to masses. To illustrate how diversified the situation currently is, Urmson stated that 55 related laws have been proposed in 23 states so far.
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently announced that it may drop some safety rules in order to help speed up development of autonomous vehicles, and some last month’s reports also suggest that the car AI may be viewed as a driver under federal law, which could potentially simplify some legal gray areas. NHTSA transportation secretary Anthony Foxx also announced that the organization is planning on writing universal guidelines on driverless cars by July though it remains to be seen whether yesterday’s automakers pleads will be realized by the federal government.