Several states are considering legislation that could exclude technology companies from operating self-driving vehicles within their borders.
The draft legislation, referred to in some states as Safe Autonomous Vehicle acts, would allow only vehicle manufacturers to test self-driving fleets in the state. Companies such as Uber and Waymo, which are developing autonomous driving systems but not the vehicles themselves, claim the stipulation is restrictive and gives legacy automakers an unfair advantage.
"Just as Americans should have a choice in what car they buy, they should also have a choice to ride in safer, more advanced self-driving cars," Waymo said in a statement. "This kind of anti-competitive bill will only slow down the rollout of live-saving technology and create an unlevel playing field at the expense of consumer safety."
The legislation originated in May in Michigan, where Republican state Sen. Mike Kowall and others introduced a package of bills permitting testing of autonomous vehicles without a steering wheel or brake pedal. The package included Senate Bill 996, known as the SAVe Act, which was drafted with input from General Motors. It said only companies that build vehicles could operate fleets without driving controls.
The bills were signed into law in December after language was revised to change the definition of "motor vehicle manufacturer" based on suggestions by Uber and Waymo CEO John Krafcik to include companies developing and testing self-driving systems.
Tennessee, Georgia, Maryland and Illinois are reviewing SAVe bills that contain the original language stipulating which companies can test vehicles in those states.
Technology companies, self-driving vehicle advocacy groups and even other automakers are concerned about the persistence of SAVe legislation and the potential negative effects of excluding competitive players.
"It's not a good idea to close the door on innovators who might come up with a solution and be a good and valuable partner," said Brad Stertz, director of government affairs for Audi of America. "Competition is one of great things spurring this revolution since it started."