Self Driving Cars- Who Are the Rulemakers?

Posted: April 29, 2016

A recent USA Today article explores the degree to which self-driving cars will create more than just technological and social ripples in our society—also presenting important issues of federalism.

The article relays the message of Chris Urmson, the chief architect of Google’s trailblazing autonomous car program, who, invoking new rules by 15 states for the use of autonomous vehicles, “all of which hav[ing] a different scope and different definitions,” believes that “[v]ehicle-safety standards are not the expertise of the states.” Instead, according to Mr. Urmson, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) should “be the expert authority for the nation on this issue.”

The author puts the position of Mr. Urmson—and Google—in the context of draft legislation proposed by the California DMV that has already been explored by this blog. The crux of that legislation is a requirement that all self-driving cars in the state be equipped with a steering wheel and pedals.

The article quotes Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson, who worries that “the absence of one set of rules means carmakers cannot conduct credible tests to develop cars that meet all the different guidelines of all 50 U.S. states.”

While noting that, “thanks to tech and auto companies alike pushing hard into the space,” autonomous vehicle technology is “maturing at a rapid pace,” the author cautions that “for autonomous cars to become a national phenomenon there has to be a cohesive set of rules and regulations governing the technology.” Reference is also made to public relation obstacles (noting a AAA poll finding that 75% of respondents were afraid of the new technology), and “yet to be discussed” insurance issues.

Should the federal government, and not state agencies such as the DMV, set rules and regulations governing self-driving cars? Does the piecemeal lawmaking of the individual states truly impede the abilities of carmakers to test their autonomous products? Would a universal set of regulations established by the NHTSA simplify the roll out of this new technology?

Google is answering all of these questions in the affirmative. That is why it has joined new lobbying group “Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets,” according to the article.

Stay tuned as the car accident attorneys keeps tabs on this developing story.

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