The first self-driving car appeared on public roads in 2009. Since then, hundreds of other companies have begun working on various technologies designed to put self-driving cars on public roads, and the regulation of autonomous vehicles has been left up to the individual states.
In a bipartisan effort, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee recently voted to end the patchwork of state regulations with the Highly Automated Vehicle Testing and Deployment Act of 2017. The full vote of the House of Representatives will not take place until after the summer recess.
The regulations would give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) broad oversight over autonomous vehicles, and prevent individual states from enacting their own automated car laws. States, however, would retain the ability to require licensing, registration, and maintenance regulations.
Under these regulations, up to 100,000 self-driving vehicles would initially be allowed on public roads for testing purposes. These vehicles would not be required to adhere to current vehicle safety standards. The vehicle manufacturers would establish the criteria under which the autonomous vehicles would operate. This would allow autonomous cars to drive on US roads before establishing baseline criteria that determine whether self-driving cars are safe on public roads with human drivers.
Proponents of the regulations believe that this legislation will speed up and enhance development of self-driving car technology, and make public roads safer because approximately 94% of fatal automobile accidents have been determined to be caused by human error. The argument is that roads will be safer when human drivers are taken out of the equation.
Opponents of the regulations point out that, at present, there is currently no data available to back up the claim that self-driving cars will make the roads safer. Furthermore, opponents argue that this legislation makes public roads available to automakers as private laboratories without due protection to the public.