The U.S. House passed a bold proposal Wednesday that would help get self-driving cars without human control on the roads faster and preemptively bar states from taking any actions to ban the automated cars.
The proposed bill, which now goes to the Senate for a vote, would allow automakers exemptions to deploy as many as 25,000 autonomous vehicles on the road without meeting existing auto safety standards in the first year and as many as 100,000 annually over the next three years, Reuters reported.
Waymo and other automakers developing self-driving technologies have been pushing federal legislators for measures that would allow self-driving vehicles to hit the roads sooner without facing a patchwork of regulations and legal hurdles.
Human error accounts for 94 percent of all traffic crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries and nearly $1 trillion in economic damages.
As Reuters notes, the issue of getting self-driving cars on the roads faster has taken on new urgency with the rate of deadly traffic crashes soaring across the country due to smartphone use and other factors. “U.S. road deaths rose 7.7 percent in 2015, the highest annual jump since 1966, when more than 6.3 million people were injured in 2.44 million crashes,” Reuters reported, citing federal statistics.
The proposed legislation would help self-driving vehicle makers to cut through federal restrictions that currently bar cars without controls from U.S. roads and state regulations the companies see as too restrictive, such as those in California.
According to Reuters, the measure would require automakers to submit safety assessment reports to regulators, but it would not require the manufacturers to gain pre-market approval of advanced vehicle technologies.
States would still be allowed to set rules on registration, licensing, liability, insurance, and safety inspections, but they would not be able to set self-driving car performance standards.
Some consumer advocates are not sold on the proposed bill, arguing that it will expose consumers to risks of injury and death that are not fully understood.
“The autonomous vehicle bill just passed by the House leaves a wild west without adequate safety protections for consumers. It pre-empts any state safety standards, but there are none at the national level,” the Consumer Watchdog group said in a statement.