Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation and technology. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
Special federal safety regulations could get autonomous vehicles on roads faster, but Google still has a long way to go on software.
Google is urging Congress to authorize U.S. auto regulators to develop new safety rules—fast—to help get driverless cars on the road.
According to a draft testimony reviewed by Reuters, Chris Urmson, head of the Google’s self-driving car program, will state to the Senate Commerce Committee Tuesday: “We propose that Congress move swiftly to provide the secretary of transportation with new authority to approve life-saving safety innovations,”
States including California and Nevada are beginning to devise their own rules that regulate autonomous vehicles, and in some cases these are running counter to the types of rules the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has already told Google it plans to adopt. For example, in December, California proposed rules that would require a licensed human driver and a steering wheel inside autonomous vehicles. The NHTSA has said it would be willing to consider the car’s computer as the driver, but that “there are significant legal hurdles to allowing fully autonomous vehicles without steering wheels,” according to Reuters.
"If every state is left to go its own way without a unified approach, operating self-driving cars across state boundaries would be an unworkable situation and one that will significantly hinder... the eventual deployment of autonomous vehicles,” Urmson’s testimony says.
Google wants driverless cars on American roads and driveways as quickly as possible. But it’s not as if the company is waiting solely on regulators to release its first model. Google still has a long way to go on developing the car’s software, and perhaps even further after one its driverless cars collided with a city bus in California in February. In January, Urmson said the company had an "internal goal" of finishing the car within five years, “but that it wouldn’t be released until its safety is beyond question,” according to CityLab.