Self-driving cars could hit US roads before federal laws are in place

A House panel approved a measure that would exempt tens of thousands of autonomous cars from state regulations.

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Aaron Josefczyk / Reuters
Aaron Josefczyk / Reuters

A House of Representatives panel just greenlit a measure that, once officially signed into law, would allow thousands of autonomous cars to hit the road while federal legislators draft more comprehensive safety laws. It would be a significant first step in nationally regulating the rollout and operation of self-driving vehicles -- or at least get them on streets while the finer details are being worked out.

Now the bill heads to the full House Energy and Commerce Committee, which might vote on it as early as next week and reach the House floor after the August recess, according to Bloomberg. The legislation would exempt automakers from US safety rules and allow them to let loose tens of thousands of autonomous vehicles on American roads, all while prohibiting states from regulating their mechanical, software and/or safety systems. While that's probably annoying for all the work California has put in developing its own rules, Wired points out, it's an aggregate boon for the majority of states that haven't produced their own regulations.

While the panel's approval was bipartisan, Democrats still have concerns about digital security requirements. In the House's current version of this bill, automakers and tech firms would need to establish a cybersecurity plan before a self-driving car hits the road. (Details haven't been released about the Senate's version.) Regardless, this legislation would provide rudimentary rules while comprehensive regulation is still being debated, and allow companies to get their products tested and deployed sooner rather than later. That's probably be a relief to companies like Apple and Tesla that are stuck trying to change autonomous car laws on a state-by-state basis.

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