— The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill called the SELF-DRIVE Act so automakers can put 25,000 vehicles on the roads in the first year and do it by skipping existing safety standards that apply to all other vehicles.
Within three years automakers will be allowed to deploy 100,000 driverless vehicles each year, and the proposal will take away the rights of states to require self-driving cars to have brake pedals and steering wheels.
The House bill includes passenger vehicles only because labor unions complained that including commercial trucks in the bill would take away the job of human truck drivers.
Automakers and self-driving companies point to an increase in traffic fatalities and injuries as the reason for throwing autonomous cars on the streets as soon as possible. Even with huge strides in safety technologies for vehicles, fatalities increased by 7.7 percent in 2015, the largest jump since 1966.
Because the government won't take a stand against cell phone use and all the distracting gadgets in vehicles, legislators believe every car occupant should be nothing more than a passenger, similar to riding on a bus.
By removing steering wheels and pedals, all an occupant will allegedly need to do is program where they want the car to go. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates 94 percent of all crashes are cause by human error, and legislators believe the only way to solve that problem is by removing human drivers from vehicles.
The House bill leaves some rights and responsibilities to states concerning licensing, safety inspections and insurance, but the states have no say-so over an automaker getting approval to test unproven technologies on the roads.
Driverless car manufacturers have battled states that have tried to create strict rules governing the use of self-driving cars, especially states that said the vehicles must be equipped with brake pedals and steering wheels. However, companies such as Google argue steering wheels and brake pedals defeat the reason and purpose of driverless cars.
One consumer advocacy organization quickly responded to the bill by saying Congress is trying to take away the responsibilities of states and hand control to automakers.
Consumer Watchdog says the passage of the bill threatens highway safety and causes a "wild west without adequate safety protections for consumers."
The consumer organization says removing the ability of states to create driverless car regulations leaves a void because federal safety regulators have been sitting on their hands, and the void will be filled by automakers that use the roads as rolling laboratories to test new technologies.
The consumer organization also says Congress should give NHTSA the money the agency needs to properly keep consumers safe, but the "sad reality is that President Trump hasn’t even bothered to nominate a NHTSA administrator.”
Consumer Watchdog also says the "House action was show-boating that actually puts consumers at risk,” and the "Department of Transportation has completely ignored a committee, the Advisory Committee on Automation in Transportation (ACAT) created by the Obama Administration to offer advice on autonomous vehicle policy."
With the House bill approved, the Senate will soon put together its own version of self-driving car legislation.