New autonomous vehicle legislation a promising step toward innovation, and away from partisan politics

September 7, 2017

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By Brandon Mason

The US House of Representatives has unanimously passed H.R. 3388, known as the SELF DRIVE (Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution) Act, this week. Clever, right? Before anything else, take a step back and appreciate how seldom it is that legislation of this magnitude is unanimously approved given the current political environment. This underscores the urgent need to address the growing interest and investment in autonomous, connected and other mobility trends.

While the details can be read here, the bill is an important step for the US as it competes with other countries around the world for a leadership role in the development of autonomous and connected vehicles. The current landscape is a messy one, with states setting up widely varying rules for OEMs and suppliers to follow, creating a web of regulatory red tape. The bill, which now goes to the Senate for approval, allows companies exemptions to deploy autonomous vehicles for testing without having to meet certain existing safety protocols, and should greatly expand the autonomous test fleet in short order. While this may seem counterintuitive to a key part of the legislation that points to improving on-road safety, automakers still must submit safety reports and adhere to certain regulations, but would be free to test new autonomous technologies.

Another key takeaway of the bill is what is excluded from it. Unlike past legislative measures that have favored certain technologies over others, the SELF DRIVE Act identifies no specific technologies that will receive preferential treatment. This may seem logical, but previous regulations around fuel economy and emission standards often favored technologies that were in wide use by domestic automakers (E85/flex-fuel), while ignoring those in wider use by foreign companies (diesel). But since the development of autonomous and connected is relatively new, there isn’t much favoritism to go around. And that’s sort of the point…we don’t yet know what technologies will win out. Therefore, creating a level playing field that encourages innovation instead of restricting it appears to be the quickest path to a better and safer world.

The path toward innovation is a winding road, but at first glance this certainly appears to be a step in the right direction.

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