US House putting self-driving cars on road to wider testing, availability


2019 Audi A8

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The U.S. House will likely approve a bill next week that would make available more self-driving cars for testing and sales, as well as standardize state rules for easier interstate travel.

A similar version for the Senate hasn't been introduced, but it likely faces the same fast-track through Congress and on to President Donald Trump's desk for approval.

The bill, which was passed unanimously through a House committee in July, would phase in testing and sales for four years for interested individual automakers, which could lead to up to 275,000 self-driving cars on the roads from each participating automaker.

Earlier iterations allowed for more sales, faster, but committee amendments slowed down the final pace to 25,000 sales the first year, 50,000 in the second year, and 100,000 sales in each of the third and fourth years from automakers such as Audi, General Motors, and Volvo. Each of those automakers have plans for self-driving cars in the near future, while Audi has already previewed a Level-3-capable version of its A8 that could go on sale as early as next year, if the legislation is enacted. Officials from those automakers didn't immediately comment on the bill.

The bill—and its fumblingly long acronym "Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act" or SELF DRIVE Act—directs the Department of Transportation and NHTSA to create less-cumbersome rules for self-driving cars that would be applied across state lines.

That initially drew criticism from state officials and groups including the National Governors Association, which is a lobby for individual states' chief executives, that warned that a massive spike in the number of self-driving cars could create a "safety vacuum" on America's roadways.

"Based on the scope of development and field evaluation of a new motor vehicle safety feature, we are concerned that this forty-fold increase in the exemption threshold could be excessive or present potential safety risks to the motoring public," the association wrote to Congress in a July 27 letter.

According to Reuters, the bill would require that self-driving cars approved for the exemption would meet or exceed current federal automotive safety regulations.

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