U.S. House Unanimously Passes Bill to Speed Development of Self-Driving Cars

What’s more remarkable: the legislation, or the fact that Congress actually agrees on something?

byKyle Cheromcha|
U.S. House Unanimously Passes Bill to Speed Development of Self-Driving Cars

Think of how hard it is to put 435 adults in a room and get every single one to agree on something. Now replace "adults" with "elected politicians" and "a room" with "Congress," and it gets even tougher. So it's no small thing that the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a massive bill on Wednesday aimed at speeding the development of self-driving cars on public roads and superseding the patchwork of regulations in individual states.

As The Drive reported earlier this morning, the Self Drive Act allows companies like Waymo, Uber, General Motors, and Ford to push out 25,000 autonomous cars per year that don't comply with current passenger car safety regulations—you know, like having a steering wheel, or accelerator and brake pedals. That cap would rise to 100,000 per company per year in three years' time.

Tasked with enacting these new standards will be the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, though President Donald Trump has yet to appoint a leader for the agency. Nevertheless, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, whose department runs the NHTSA, will be revealing the updated guidelines at an event next Tuesday in Michigan, according to Reuters.

The one thing the Self Drive Act doesn't deal with is commercial applications like trucking, which many see as an ideal proving ground for real-world integration of autonomous technologies. A competing Senate bill under development may reportedly include regulations for self-driving trucks, but Axios reports opposition among labor unions remains high.

"With this legislation, innovation can flourish without the heavy hand of government," said Rep. Bob Latta, Republican of Ohio, according to Bloomberg.

Of course, some critics and consumer advocates have pointed out that "the heavy hand of government" can be extremely beneficial when developing complex, potentially dangerous technologies. But companies aren't given entirely free reign under the new law; they'll still have to develop cybersecurity and privacy protections, and submit regular "safety assessments" to the federal government.

Predictably, automakers are overall pleased with this latest development, though the bill will still have to make it through the U.S. Senate and across President Trump's desk before becoming law.

"Automakers have been developing these technologies for years and this legislation helps address a variety of barriers that otherwise block the ability to safely test and deploy these vehicle technologies," the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing GM, Ford, Volkswagen AG, and several other automakers said in a statement to Bloomberg.