What is the Self-Drive Act?

On September 6, 2017, the House of Representatives passed a bill intended to ease self-driving cars onto the roads, changing federal rules for safety and vehicle testing.

Under the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act, or Self Drive Act, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) would be required to develop a new set of safety rules for autonomous cars. The bill would exempt autonomous cars from certain federal safety rules in favor of new ones promulgated by the DOT. The legislation seeks to ensure the safe, innovative development, testing, and deployment of self-driving cars. The act would also provide more opportunities for research and development.

Under the Act, the Department of Transportation would develop a new safety certification process to set standards governing self-driving car automakers. The DOT would develop and implement a long-term rulemaking plan for self-driving car testing and deployment on roads.

Cybersecurity standards would address vulnerabilities in self-driving systems as well as privacy relating to user data. The Self-Drive Act would also establish a Highly Automated Vehicle Advisory Council under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Do We Need Federal Legislation Addressing Self-Driving Cars?

As it stands now, piecemeal state and federal legislation attempts to keep up with the self-driving technology. Federal motor vehicle safety standards need to be updated. While autonomous vehicles have the potential to improve safety by reducing accidents caused by human error, their existence creates a need to examine and perhaps adapt existing safety technologies.

The legislation would improve the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)’s ability to adapt federal safety standards to the emerging self-driving technology. The Self-Drive Act would clarify federal and state roles and responsibilities with respect to self-driving cars.

How Would Existing State Law and Local Ordinances Be Affected?

State and local ordinances that are not identical to the new federal rules would be preempted.

Nonetheless, states, and other government entities, would be permitted to set higher standards for the vehicles they use.

The Self-Drive Act would not prevent states from regulating drivers themselves in terms of licensing and training. States would also be free to regulate dealerships that sell autonomous vehicles.

Would the Self-Drive Act Increase Public Safety?

Self-driving cars have the potential to make roads safer by reducing driver error. However, before such a fundamentally unique and innovative product is released into the marketplace, it is important to create a uniform set of minimum safety standards to address a variety of concerns. For example, proponents of the bill also emphasize safety measures such as mandatory rear seat detection and collision avoidance technology that may require adaption to function in self-driving cars. Hopefully, implementation of the Self-Drive Act will be the first step in establishing a regulatory framework allowing for the safe integration of self-driving cars into the marketplace.