As Self-Driving Cars Near, Washington Plays Catch-Up

NEW YORK TIMES, 21 JULY 2017, FEAT. PROF. BRYANT WALKER SMITH:

Self-driving cars are zooming at breakneck speed toward America’s roadways, and Washington is finally reaching for its seatbelt.

For years, the race to create fully autonomous vehicles went mostly unnoticed by federal lawmakers, who tended to speak of self-driving cars (if they spoke of them at all) as something out of “The Jetsons.” It was an odd blind spot, given how close companies in Silicon Valley and Detroit were to creating mass-market autonomous vehicles, and how many important industries — taxi driving, long-haul trucking and shipping among them — stood to be drastically transformed as a result.

But now, lawmakers are taking cautious steps toward the driverless future.

On Wednesday, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee voted to advance a bill that would speed up the development of self-driving cars and establish a federal framework for their regulation. The bill, known as the Highly Automated Vehicle Testing and Deployment Act of 2017, is the first major federal effort to regulate autonomous vehicles, and would give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration broad oversight of the self-driving car industry. A full committee vote on the measure is expected next week, and the bill could go before the entire House this fall.

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