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Setting the Record Straight: The SELF DRIVE Act


Recent high-profile accidents involving self-driving cars have only underscored the need for a federal safety framework as implemented by the SELF DRIVE Act. Last week, #SubDCCP Chairman Bob Latta (R-OH) and Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) made the case for moving forward on self-driving car legislation. However, an op-ed penned by organizations opposed to the bill attempts to raise concerns about these strongly bipartisan efforts. It’s important to set the record straight.

MYTH #1: Safety will take a backseat.

The op-ed claims, “The House and Senate bills have major safety gaps which need to be addressed to allow for the successful deployment of AVs as well as consumer acceptance of AVs, including: The bills allow potentially millions of vehicles to be sold which are exempt from existing safety standards, including those that ensure occupant protection.”

FACT #1: The SELF DRIVE Act puts in place a national framework and safety requirements for self-driving car manufacturers.

For any vehicle, traditional or self-driving, to be entered into commerce, the vehicle must meet all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) or be granted an exemption from the Secretary of Transportation. Exemptions are extremely important because they allow automakers the space to innovate outside of traditional features, but the process requires there be no reduction in overall safety. If a manufacturer seeks an exemption for a self-driving car, then the SELF DRIVE Act requires that manufacturer to prove that the vehicle is as safe or safer than traditional, nonexempt vehicles.

Under the SELF DRIVE Act, the Department of Transportation (DOT) makes this determination based on detailed analysis of test data. Aggressive government oversight ensures that any car, exempt or nonexempt, is safe when it reaches the market.

The bill limits the total number of exemptions a manufacturer may be granted each year, creating a phased-in approach that begins at 25,000 the first year and increases to 100,000 by year four.

Additionally, the bill maintains the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) broad recall authority. This is critical because it ensures NHTSA has the necessary tools to remove vehicles off our roadways that it deems unsafe.

MYTH #2: Safety information won’t be ready available. 

“Consumers and relevant federal agencies will be left in the dark without essential information and comprehensive data.”

FACT #2: Safety information will be transparent and required by NHTSA.

With the SELF DRIVE Act, self-driving car manufacturers are required to submit safety assessment certifications that provide critical safety data to NHTSA. If a manufacturer applies to DOT for an exemption to prove a vehicle’s safety level, this will provide NHTSA even more data. The bill also strengthens public disclosure of that information, making it more transparent and accessible for all Americans.

MYTH #3: Manufacturers can turn off a car’s safety systems.

“Manufacturers will be able to unilaterally ‘turn off’ safety systems including braking and steering when the car is being operated by a computer.”

FACT #3: Manufacturers will not be allowed to unilaterally shut off safety systems.

The SELF DRIVE Act does not include any provision that allows a manufacturer to unilaterally turn off safety systems. Additionally, the bill maintains all of NHTSA’s penalty, rulemaking, and recall authority to ensure rigorous oversight.

MYTH #4: States won’t be able to keep their citizens safe. 

“State action to protect their citizens is preempted, even though the federal government has not issued regulations, nor do the bills require such rules prior to deployment.”

FACT #4: States and the federal government have clearly defined roles to enhance safety.

The SELF DRIVE Act simply clarifies traditional state and federal roles regarding self-driving cars. Consistent with the rules of the road today, the federal government will continue to regulate safety features and performance of the vehicle, and states will continue to regulate traffic laws, law enforcement, licensing and registration, driver education, safety inspections, and more.

The SELF DRIVE Act does not affect a state’s ability to protect its citizens. In fact, the bill codifies the foundation set by the Obama administration’s first Federal Automated Vehicles Policy that clarifies these same roles for the state and federal levels.

The current status quo of regulatory uncertainty and over 37,000 lives lost last year on our roadways is unacceptable. We stand ready to work with our Senate colleagues to ensure a safe and innovative national policy for self-driving cars.

For more resources and information about the SELF DRIVE Act, click here