Innovation and Oversight: Self-Driving Cars

Recently, a subcommittee I serve on held a hearing on self-driving cars. We heard from many involved in the development and oversight of automated vehicle (“AV”) technology. Self-driving cars, also known as autonomous vehicles, are a perfect example of how innovation can save lives, improve mobility, and help our environment.

Self-driving cars have the ability to improve safety and reduce congestion. This means fewer cars on the road. Congestion mitigation results in travelers reaching their destination faster, and a corresponding reduction in carbon emissions. There are also economic productivity and health benefits to drivers being on the road less.

There are challenges that, as a policymaker, I am focusing on in order to facilitate the continued innovation and viability of AV’s.

Under the current regulatory framework, the federal government is responsible for managing motor vehicle safety standards (e.g. seatbelts and airbags), while states are responsible for managing drivers and the operation of vehicles on state roads (e.g. licensing and insurance).

The National Highway Transportation and Safety Association’s (NHTSA) Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, a federal regulatory framework, spells out the division of responsibilities between the federal and state governments. But added clarity is needed for all stakeholders to effectively and efficiently chart a responsible path to safe development and deployment of AV technology. Presently, a patchwork of proposed state laws could impede innovation through a series of competing standards and processes, rather than vest exclusive jurisdiction of vehicle safety standards within NHTSA.

There is no denying that this technology carries incredible potential to redefine mobility and our transportation networks. This hearing highlighted the coming potential, but also made clear the need for forward-thinking leadership to develop clear policies that encourage, not discourage, innovation. I look forward to updating you on the future of AV’s and my role as an involved policymaker on the subject.

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