WASHINGTON -- A group of business executives and retired U.S. military officials today called for the removal of regulatory barriers and a national policy to trump state rules to foster autonomous car deployment.
The proposals were outlined in a series of policy recommendations released by the Energy Security Leadership Council, a group co-chaired by FedEx CEO Frederick Smith and retired Gen. James Conway, the 34th commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.
The council is a project of Securing America’s Future Energy, or SAFE, an influential group of business and former military officials seeking to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
The group and its proposals add a new dimension to the autonomous car debate, introducing corporate and military voices from outside the auto industry to bring attention to the energy and national security implications of self-driving cars, in addition to potential safety and mobility benefits that already loom large.
“Ultimately, we should allow Level 4 cars on roads as soon as they are as safe as today’s vehicles,” Robbie Diamond, CEO of SAFE, told reporters, referring to vehicles designed to operate without driver involvement.
SAFE aims to reduce the transportation industry’s dependence on oil from 92 percent today to 50 percent by 2040, with broad deployment of fully autonomous cars playing a key role along with maximized U.S. oil and gas production and continued use of alternative fuels such as batteries and hydrogen.
The group also proposed reforms to the federal government’s $7,500 electric vehicle tax credit by removing the cap on EVs eligible, which is currently limited to the first 200,000 EVs sold per manufacturer.
SAFE also wants a lower tax credit for EVs costing more than $40,000 and to make vehicles that cost $50,000 or more ineligible for the tax credit.
“We don’t need to help rich folks pay for their Teslas,” Conway said.
The group says a national autonomous car policy that “pre-empts” state rules is needed. It also recommended a move away from the government’s “very prescriptive” Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards in lieu of “broad outlines” that establish vehicle performance standards and provide flexibility in how manufacturers meet those targets.
The proposals come as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is drafting guidelines for the safe deployment of autonomous cars, which are expected to be released by July. The agency also is crafting model policies for states to oversee autonomous cars that won’t impede their commercialization and use.
Diamond says NHTSA may need additional oversight powers and the council proposed that a single office inside a restructured U.S. Department of Transportation be responsible for autonomous transportation.
“We have the luxury of putting out recommendations and then going to Capitol Hill and trying to change their authority,” Diamond said. “Our view is they should go as far as they can, but we’re happy to work with them to allow or give them the authority to go even further and to provide this ability for pre-emption.”