Bringing self-driving cars to the scene has already caused a few bumps in the road. Most notably, a self-driving Uber car recently ran down a pedestrian. As auto manufacturers race to get their models on the road in record time, both the public and the auto industry wait to see how government regulations will impact this new technology.
New laws may not be coming at all, if the inaction of the Department of Transportation is any indication. The agency hasn’t made any noticeable moves to regulate how self-driving cars are handled in real traffic conditions. As a federal agency, states may be looking to the Department of Transportation to see how to react, but that may be an effort in futility.
It seems that, at least for the time being, the federal government is keeping its hands out of the till. This means it will be left to the individual states to set regulations to make self-driving cars safer, when joining the roadway. This may be a troubling trend, if states are to buckle under the pressure from the automotive industry.
One such incident may have already set a precedent. General Motors recently addressed the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, explaining that they wanted to test their self-driving Bolt EV without a steering wheel, or brake or acceleration pedals. Upon hearing of the request, at least seven states said they would welcome such tests on their public roads.
Currently, those tests are illegal and the NHTSA would have to eliminate or alter some of the rules regarding test drives. Currently, the law states that a vehicle must have a steering wheel, as well as acceleration and braking pedals, before it can be driven on a public road. This includes test drives for new vehicles. The NHTSA has yet to take action on the issue, leaving General Motors waiting, and the delay may have something to do with the fact that the agency is still without a permanent administrator.
While the technological aspect of self-driving cars is exciting and may ultimately make driving safer, the automotive industry is stuck waiting for government guidance. Without input and decisions from the NHTSA, auto manufacturers are unable to move forward with tests that are necessary to ensure public safety.