Lawmakers are warning that China will win the race for developing and deploying driverless vehicles if the U.S. does not write new rules of the road.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s GOP majority wants the government to enact a federal framework governing autonomous vehicles. Some Democrats appear eager to assist.
Republicans want a new standard that increases testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles by allowing more manufacturers to get exemptions from rules that govern traditional vehicles. The lawmakers also want to make sure that those involved in making the new tech do not face a flurry of unwanted lawsuits.
Rep. Debbie Dingell, Michigan Democrat, is eager to work with the GOP. She said at an energy and commerce subcommittee hearing on Wednesday that failing to write new law now would let China take the pole position to dictate rules for autonomous vehicles.
“We’re going to get it done this year, or this Congress, I guess I should be realistic,” Ms. Dingell said. “But here’s the hard truth, autonomous vehicles are here and every day we do not have a federal framework in place for the safe deployment of AVs, we’re risking falling behind the rest of the world — China gets what’s at stake.”
The risk of letting China overtake America in the autonomous vehicle market presents both economic and security challenges for the U.S., according to Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association Executive Director Jeff Farrah.
Mr. Farrah told lawmakers that they should find China‘s advancement on autonomous vehicles “alarming” and that it could lead to lost jobs and national security concerns.
Chinese companies are testing autonomous vehicles in America and doubled their presence on California’s roads between 2018 and 2019, according to the innovation, data, and commerce subcommittee’s majority staff.
“Chinese companies, like Pony.ai and AutoX, are increasing their testing on California roads, collecting information about Americans and our infrastructure, and subsequently exporting it back to China,” the committee staff wrote in a memo this week. “American companies who test on Chinese roads are not allowed to send information back to the U.S., as no such data reciprocity exists for American companies.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Energy and Commerce Committee’s chair, said China‘s vision of the future involves the domination of the autonomous vehicle industry and does not support American values of freedom and privacy rights.
“We need to make sure that these technologies of the future are developed in an ecosystem that promotes American values, not China‘s,” the Washington Republican said on Wednesday. “And this is not a race that we can afford to let them win.”
The federal government has crafted rules for automated driving systems. Automated driver systems already assist drivers without human involvement, and emerging technological and artificially intelligent advances promise greater removal of a human from the operation in autonomous vehicles.
The Justice Department is probing Tesla’s automated driving systems, and the electric vehicle manufacturer confirmed the investigation in paperwork filed Tuesday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Mr. Farrah said the future has arrived and autonomous vehicles are no longer the stuff of science fiction. He counted autonomous driving tech already being applied to a range of vehicles operating in states including: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Michigan, Texas, and Washington state.
In the absence of a federal framework, Mr. Farrah said 22 states have taken action to authorize autonomous vehicles on their roads, but said he did not believe the state-by-state approach was ideal.
“We are at a crossroads for the American AV industry and frankly we need your help,” Mr. Farrah told lawmakers. “Make no mistake, the United States can lead the way on autonomous vehicles but policymakers must prioritize AV policy and do so with urgency.”
Ms. McMorris Rodgers made clear she thought creating a federal privacy law would be the best place to start as Congress prepares to consider autonomous vehicles hitting roadways.