WASHINGTON – A House panel on Wednesday backed legislation designed to allow automakers to increase the testing of self-driving cars on U.S. roads.
The bill would let automakers deploy up to 100,000 self-driving vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards, a move designed to boost testing of new technology. The current cap for such exemptions is 2,500. The bill would also require manufacturers to report information about all crashes involving the exempted cars and give the Transportation secretary authority to halt the exemptions for any manufacturer if a defect is discovered.
“We want aggressive oversight of the industry, but with the flexibility needed to test and generate the safest and most affordable technologies possible,” said Rep. Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which could take up the bill as early as next week.
A subcommittee approved the bill by voice vote. The full House would not act on the bill until September at the earliest, giving lawmakers more time to work out changes designed to increase support for the measure.
A top priority for lawmakers and the automotive industry is to limit states on regulations. Generally, the federal government regulates the vehicle while states regulate the driver.
The bill would prohibit any state or municipality from imposing its own laws related to the design and construction of self-driving cars.
Federal officials say 94 percent of auto accidents are caused by human error, so self-driving technology has the potential to save thousands of lives and improve the mobility of many elderly and disabled U.S. citizens.
“We can forget about the Jetsons, the future of the automobile is here,” said Rep. Fred Upton, Republican from Michigan. “The automotive industry is revolutionizing how we are going to get around for decades to come.”