While there’s still much work to be done before Americans turn driving over to a robot, the technology is rapidly developing in Ohio.
Last week, automakers got a needed boost when the U.S. House approved a bill that could speed up the introduction of driverless cars to U.S. roads within the next decade.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, gives the federal government authority to exempt carmakers from certain safety standards not applicable to the autonomous driving technology, and to permit deployment of up to 100,000 of the vehicles annually over the next several years.
Current federal motor vehicle safety rules prevent the sale of self-driving vehicles without human controls. And automakers must meet nearly 75 auto safety standards, many of which were written with the assumption that a licensed driver will be in control of the vehicle.
If Latta’s bill becomes law, states would still set rules on registration, licensing, liability, insurance and safety inspections, but could not set self-driving car performance standards.
The bill resulted after automakers complained that state laws could hamper deployment of the vehicles, which automakers see as the future of their industry.
As chairman of the House subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection, Latta has been highly supportive of removing some of the roadblocks to driverless vehicles.
He has said the self-driving car technology has the possibility of greatly reducing accidents and deaths on the nation’s roadways, and of increasing the mobility of seniors and those living with disabilities.
It stands to reason that self-driving cars will lower traffic fatalities once they are on roads in significant numbers. Each year more than 35,000 people die nationally in traffic collisions. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 94 percent of all crashes involve human error.
Latta has noted that this region is leading the way nationally in the development of the autonomous driving technology with sites like the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty. He believes that self-driving cars will be a job creator and economic driver in both Ohio and Michigan, which have many auto part suppliers and manufacturers.
The fact the bill was passed unanimously is noteworthy in itself since it comes at a time when bipartisan support for anything in federal government is unusual.
But the measure still needs further vetting by the U.S. Senate before it would become law, and proceeds at a time when Congress has its hands full with health care, immigration, tax reform and national security matters.
Still, Latta deserves credit for taking a lead on an important issue for Ohio and the auto industry.
While safety should always be the highest priority with motor vehicles, whether operated by a human or a computer, the new technology must be allowed to advance without burdensome regulations that were written for vehicles with drivers.
Latta’s bill keeps the driverless car ball rolling by encouraging research and development and continued investment by automakers. It provides a good road map for the introduction of driverless cars to our nation’s roads.
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