WASHINGTON -- From a regulatory standpoint, September has been a good month so far for U.S. automakers and tech companies racing to develop autonomous vehicles.
The House of Representatives passed the SELF DRIVE Act, the Senate Commerce Committee floated a draft bill that soon will become an official proposal, and the Department of Transportation issued revised industry guidance on how the federal government will treat safety compliance in the brave new world of driverless cars.
The three efforts reflect the politically conservative tendencies of the Trump administration and Congress in projecting a hands-off approach to establishing a legal and regulatory framework for self-driving vehicles, and they promise to deliver much of the regulatory certainty and consistency sought by the industry.
Safety groups complain that the proposals give the industry too much leeway to ignore risks, but some experts say the government approach recognizes that private-sector competition will drive safety improvements faster than regulators who might overlook potential solutions when prescribing rules.
"You're seeing a light regulatory touch to encourage innovation and prevent the government from picking winners and losers," said Tim Goodman, a transportation safety attorney at Babst Calland. He also was assistant chief counsel for enforcement at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration until April 2016.
"Pursuing a market-based approach allows companies to take advantage of efficiencies" and promote safety, he added.