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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been reviewing safety standards for autonomous vehicles (AV), and it was reported that they plan to streamline permit approvals. As such, the NHTSA plans to speed up how they decide if automakers can use self-driving cars, including those without steering wheels, pedals, and other human interaction devices.
As part of this, the Senate re-opened discussions on the previously stalled AV START Act. A resurrected bill could be turned into federal legislation that could govern these vehicles.
The current AV safety standards number 75, a large number of which assume that a licensed driver will be in the vehicle. With the numbers of self-driving cars in use steadily increasing, many feel that Congress needs to take more definitive regulatory action.
Back in late 2016, the Obama administration proposed regulations to require that all new vehicles be equipped with wireless technology that would allow them to communicate with each other, as well as smart traffic signals. This upgrade could potentially prevent thousands of car accidents each year, but no laws have been passed.
Under current laws, the companies can request safety standard exemptions for 2,500 AV vehicles each year, if they conform to existing vehicles’ safety standards. General Motors Company filed a petition for another exemption in January, and this would allow them to use fully automated AV in their planned 2019 ride-sharing fleet. This is still under review.
Other manufacturers, like Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo, employs cars that also have human interaction controls.
Many have expressed concerns that the auto companies are pushing for profits at the expense of safety; in 2018, an Arizona woman was struck and killed by an automated vehicle while she was walking her bike across a street. Further, concerns are often raised about the line between the impact of AV on personal injury claims and product liability matters.
Several organizations are studying this issue, and have made recommendations to promote AV safety and sustainability. A paper published by the 3 Revolutions Future Mobility Program and the Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy includes a set of guidelines. These focus on making safety a priority.
The paper calls for specifically outlined local, state and federal government policies and responsibilities. It also points out that AV data must be properly recorded and managed.
Advocates are pushing for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and Congress to update regulations as the technology evolves. Some current legislation may not apply to completely autonomous self-driving vehicles, so it may help to make the laws more flexible.
It has also been pointed out that cybersecurity problems and software issues should be reasons to recall these vehicles, since these can contribute to accidents.
New legislation in the Senate may be a stepping stone towards keeping the public safe with self-driving vehicles, but it is a work in progress. Allowing automakers the freedom to perfect the technology without increasing the numbers of traffic accidents is an important but fine line to negotiate.
This evolving legislation will require cooperation from many parties, including government agencies, car companies, and the public.
Automotive safety deficiencies can cause car accidents, resulting in manufacturer liability and personal injury claims. If you need knowledgeable legal guidance with any type of car accident, contact a Wilmington car accident lawyer at Rhoades & Morrow. For a free consultation, contact us online or call our Wilmington office at 302-427-9500, our Bear office at 302-834-8484, or our Milford office at 302-422-6705. We proudly represent clients across Delaware, including Elsmere and Seaford.