Safety of Self-Driving Cars - Proposed Legislation


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Republicans have proposed legislation for self-driving cars, which they believe will significantly reduce the number of car fatalities.

Last year alone, there were 2 million car accident injuries, and 40,000 fatalities from collisions. House lawmakers are reviewing the federal legislation while the Senate works to obtain vehicle approval. Supporters claim that usage of self-driving vehicles would make a significant dent in the annual number of car accident fatalities.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety think fewer vehicles should be allowed to be test driven on roads than what was proposed in the Republican bill. Democrat Frank Pallone of New Jersey, says lawmakers should consult the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) before passing legislation. Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety believe automated cars should be put through rigorous testing before being driven on the road. Safety and consumer advocates are concerned about self-driving cars being released on the market without firm safety protocol and evaluations being performed first. Whether state or federal government should enforce and maintain self-driving car rules is the main concern. If the states control it, the regulations could vary widely by state, and there is a concern that many will impose needless requirements.

Trade groups for auto companies, however, are asking the federal government to control the situation with minimal regulations. They would like on-road testing for autonomous vehicles to be rapidly deployed to show it is safe. The intent is to garner public acceptance so these autonomous vehicles become the norm.

Companies Join the Race

Automakers such as Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. are urging technology companies to commercialize the self-driven vehicles. Ford has invested $1 billion dollars into a startup called Argo AI, an artificial intelligence platform to enhance their efforts at obtaining the federal greenlight. General Motors, on the other hand, has a fleet of self-driving electric cars branded Bolt, which they have recently expanded from 50 to 180 vehicles. These vehicles are currently being road tested in Detroit, San Francisco, and Arizona. Apple also recently hopped on the bandwagon and announced they will lease a small fleet of autonomous cars.

The previous administration created voluntary guidelines for safe self-driving vehicle operation last September. Automakers say this gives NHTSA oversight on the development and expansion of the cars, while still providing leeway for changes. Under limited circumstances, automakers can field vehicles that do not comply with federal vehicle safety standards. Exemptions are capped at 2,500 cars per year, and a detailed analysis is required to be submitted to NHTSA highlighting how the self-driven vehicles are safer than regular cars. The current pending legislation would expand the number of exemptions to be capped at 100,000 vehicles. One of the exemptions allows automakers to road test new safety features. Another exemption currently in place will allow vehicles on the road, even if they do not meet specific safety requirements; however, they must surpass overall safety requirements of conventional cars.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dennis J. Melofchik
Dennis J. Melofchik was admitted to practice law in the State of New Jersey in 1972 and has been engaged in the practice of law for the past 43 years. Mr. Melofchik’s present practice is concentrated in the areas of civil litigation including business litigation, employment and civil rights litigation, criminal and municipal court matters, Chancery litigation and personal injury litigation. Mr. Melofchik prides himself on the practice of law where a person’s handshake and word is his bond.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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