Senators’ proposal skirts NHTSA safety regulations for self-driving cars

A proposal by two US senators could allow up to 80,000 self-driving test vehicles on public roads that don’t meet NHTSA safety standards.


Autonomous vehicle development is big business nowadays, and as with many fast-growing industries, some people in both the public and private sectors worry that government regulations — specifically safety regulations in this case — are strangling progress.

To attempt to alleviate that, two senators — Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) — are working to introduce legislation that would allow the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to exempt up to 15,000 self-driving vehicles per vehicle manufacturer from NHTSA safety standards, according to a report published Thursday by Reuters. There are also plans to further increase that number to 80,000 vehicles within three years. In case you were curious, the current exemption allows for just 2,500 vehicles.

The plan’s proponents claim that allowing more vehicles to skirt safety regulations aimed at human drivers will increase the speed of development of self-driving vehicle technology, which will help keep the US technologically competitive with China. In fact, Sens. Peters and Thune are trying to attach this legislation to a larger bill meant to do just that.

There is also opposition to the plan. Thune and Peters have been working for four years to get similar legislation approved, to no avail. There is also some criticism from the American Association for Justice over whether this move would violate consumer rights.

We asked the offices of both senators for comment but didn’t hear back in time for publication.

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