Feds ready to tell California DMV to drop self-driving car rules

by Steve Blum • , ,

The U.S. congress isn’t completely gridlocked, at least not where self-driving cars are concerned. This week, the U.S. house of representatives passed a bill – with a whopping bipartisan majority – that would put the federal transportation department in charge of setting standards for autonomous vehicles, and determining whether or not any particular design is safe to operate on open roads, anywhere in the country. If it makes it into law – it still has to be approved by the U.S. senate and signed by the president – California won’t be able to set its own rules for autonomous vehicle operation…

No State or political subdivision of a State may maintain, enforce, prescribe, or continue in effect any law or regulation regarding the design, construction, or performance of highly automated vehicles, automated driving systems, or components of automated driving systems unless such law or regulation is identical to a standard prescribed under this chapter.

States would still be responsible for regulating “registration, licensing, driving education and training, insurance, law enforcement, crash investigations, safety and emissions inspections, congestion management [and] traffic”, but only if those laws are not “an unreasonable restriction on the design, construction, or performance of highly automated vehicles, automated driving systems, or components of automated driving systems”.

Next week, the Trump administration is expected to announce a parallel effort to federalise self-driving car oversight, and early leaks of its plans seem to track with both the house bill and a regulatory system outlined last year, by the Obama administration. There’s also a bill pending in the U.S. senate that takes a similar, but not identical, approach.

Assuming this Beltway love affair with autonomous vehicles doesn’t run out of gas, Californian regulators will have to scrap its current rules and pull back on plans to expand them. That’s likely to have a positive impact on self-driving car development here, since it’ll remove most of the regulatory incentives to head to Nevada or Arizona, as Uber did last year when it butted heads with the California department of motor vehicles.