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The only way the US can safely move forward with self-driving cars

  • The U.S. needs a national policy to promote the safe deployment of self-driving cars.
  • The House has already passed legislation to regulate self-driving cars. Now the Senate needs to pass the SELF DRIVE Act.
  • The U.S. cannot risk getting outpaced by Europe and Asia, where countries have already enacted legislation to support self-driving cars.
An Uber self-driving car drives down 5th Street on March 28, 2017 in San Francisco, California.
Getty Images
An Uber self-driving car drives down 5th Street on March 28, 2017 in San Francisco, California.

American entrepreneurship has always pushed the boundaries of invention and ingenuity. It's what spurred Henry Ford, in Dearborn, Michigan, to introduce the Model T, revolutionizing the automobile industry and the trajectory of what's possible in transportation technology.

A hundred years from now, when our great-grandkids are zipping around town in self-driving cars, we want them to be able to tell the same story of American innovation.

The United States has long paved the way for the rest of the world in technological advancements, and with self-driving cars on the horizon, we must continue our proud history of leadership.

However, without a national policy, we could lose the opportunity to promote the safe deployment of self-driving cars and realize their full potential benefits. We need a federal framework that provides clear guidance to companies as they innovate while maintaining states' and municipalities' traditional roles in traffic safety and consumer protection.

"Recent high-profile accidents, including one that resulted in the tragic death of a pedestrian, have raised concerns about advancing self-driving technology."

The U.S. cannot risk getting outpaced by Europe and Asia, where countries have already enacted legislation to support self-driving cars.

The House of Representatives did its job by passing legislation, and we got it done in a strongly bipartisan manner. Last year, after hundreds of meetings with stakeholders, including safety experts and advocacy groups, the Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously passed the SELF DRIVE Act.

The bill went on to pass the full House by voice vote with many of our colleagues coming to the House Floor to declare their support.

We heard the need for increased safety data for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), greater transparency in disclosures for the public, strengthening NHTSA's ability to update safety standards designed for traditional vehicles, and consideration of societal changes likely to come with the deployment of self-driving cars.

And the SELF DRIVE Act delivers by establishing a national policy that encourages the testing and deployment of self-driving cars on America's roads. It also requires that safety assessment certifications are filed by manufacturers and ensures NHTSA's broad recall authority still applies to these new vehicles. Under this bill, NHTSA maintains the authority to remove vehicles off our roadways that it deems unsafe.

That said, we understand the apprehension many folks have about this technology. Self-driving cars have been making headlines in the past few months, but, unfortunately, not for the right reasons. Recent high-profile accidents, including one that resulted in the tragic death of a pedestrian, have raised concerns about advancing self-driving technology.

We fully agree that thorough and definitive investigations must be carried out by the appropriate agencies. However, these incidents underscore the need for a federal safety framework as implemented by the SELF DRIVE Act.

The SELF DRIVE Act takes an important first step by providing the structure and government oversight needed to help ensure that self-driving cars are as safe, if not safer, than cars on the road today. It's also important that we work to restore and build consumers' trust and confidence in this technology.

The bill also includes an advisory council to consider the effects of self-driving cars on labor and employment, mobility access for people with disabilities and senior citizens, environmental impacts, and more.

Legislation in the self-driving car space is coming at a critical time, and America needs to lead. While accidents involving self-driving vehicles might make the headlines, more than 37,000 Americans died behind the wheel of traditional cars last year.

The status quo is simply unacceptable. We have the potential to make a real difference by saving lives and improving mobility. But we have to get it right, and that takes federal leadership.

The safety and economic benefits of self-driving technology are too far-reaching, and the costs are too consequential, to delay its development. As Americans, it's in our nature to pursue the next big thing on the horizon. We have the greatest innovators and strongest work ethic in the world, but we're at risk of losing our hold in the race to self-driving technology.

Since the House reached bipartisan consensus on the SELF DRIVE Act last September, the Senate has been working on its own self-driving car legislation but progress has stalled. Calls for the Senate to halt its work on this legislation will only delay American leadership and further safety innovation.

We are ready to work with our Senate colleagues, and we urge them to act quickly before we begin to trail too far behind other countries and miss the chance to champion this emerging technology.

Commentary by Representatives Bob Latta (R-OH) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

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