“Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said that since the wide-scale adoption of autonomous vehicles is still a long way off, ‘the rush to get a bill passed seems like a very in-the-Beltway development…The reality is, we’re much closer to autonomous vehicles than we were 20, 30 years ago…But right around the corner? That’s a pretty long corner.'”
As Silicon Valley and automakers attempt to steer the nation toward a future of driverless vehicles, a group of influential lawmakers remains concerned that bipartisan legislation now moving through Congress could leave consumers at risk by preventing states from demanding tighter safety regulations.
But consumer advocates and a group of lawmakers including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) are worried that the current proposals don’t go far enough to protect consumers from accidents and other dangers.
The consternation over the legislation highlights Congress’ persistent challenge in keeping up with the innovation economy. As lawmakers spar about how to regulate autonomous vehicles, Silicon Valley and the rest of the world are racing ahead with developments. Driverless cars have already been cruising through select cities on test runs.
As testing has expanded, so have the risks. The first pedestrian fatality caused by a driverless vehicle occurred in March, when Elaine Herzberg was fatally struck by an Uber operating on self-drive mode in Tempe, Ariz.
Sponsors of the House and Senate measures are mostly from automotive states such as Michigan and Ohio, and they are eager to anchor the emerging autonomous vehicle industry in their regions. They warn the U.S. could fall behind other nations.
“It’s being built in China, it’s being built in India, it’s being built in Western Europe,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), a co-sponsor of the SELF DRIVE Act, at a recent forum at George Washington University. “If we want to make sure that we are staying at the forefront of innovation, we’ve got to be doing the same thing.”
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