Tech Companies Fight State Laws Favoring Automakers Over Startups In Self-Driving Car Testing

Tech companies and advocacy groups are battling potential new state laws that would only allow automakers to test autonomous vehicles in those states.

A handful of states are considering enacting what’s usually called Safe Autonomous Vehicle acts that would bar technology companies and only allow vehicle manufacturers to test drive self-driving cars.

The legislation kicked off in Michigan, which included a bill draft with input from General Motors limiting access to state testing to automakers. The state did revise the bills wording of “motor vehicle manufacturer” based on suggestions by Uber and Waymo to include companies developing and testing self-driving systems.

Tennessee, Georgia, Maryland, and Illinois are also reviewing bills that would be close to Michigan’s automaker-only original version, Automotive News reports.

Ride-hailing firm Uber and Alphabet, Inc.’s Waymo self-driving car division says Safe Autonomous Vehicle acts are unnecessarily restrictive and give 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.”

A few other tech companies, self-driving vehicle advocacy groups, and other automakers, share Uber and Waymo’s concerns about making sure a competitive environment is protected.

“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.”

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In September, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, a set of recommendations and guidelines for governments enacting self-driving car rules. The federal agency is still reviewing the proposal which may enact a nationwide legal structure governing self-driving car testing and deployment. NHTSA has the goal of rolling out an enforceable national standard that would resolve a “patchwork of incompatible laws,” according to its guidelines.

Some automakers, including Toyota, agree with taking this nationwide approach.

“We firmly believe that the establishment of vehicle performance standards for autonomous vehicle technology should take place at the national level,” said Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, last week in a statement to Congress.

It may be too early in the process for states to establish a legal structure governing self-driving cars without federal guidance, said Chan Lieu, an adviser to the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets.

“That’s the concern, is how to synchronize all of this,” Lieu said. “We need to get states to hold off and understand what their motivation is. We’re still a ways off from deployment in a number of these states. It’s premature to be acting.”

The coalition represents Ford, Volvo, Waymo, Uber, and Lyft, on autonomous vehicle policies.

Automotive News


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