As more self-driving cars come online, some lawmakers in Olympia want to make sure they follow the rules of the road.
House Bill 1731 would strengthen requirements for autonomous-vehicle testing in Washington state. Sponsor of the bill state Rep. Shelley Kloba – D-Kirkland – said the Washington State Autonomous Vehicle Work Group discovered there was a low bar required to start testing these vehicles.
“There was no difference, basically,” said Kloba, “in what you had to do or prove or show or what kind of criteria you had to meet in order to drive without a human in the car. Nothing. There was no difference, and I think that was kind of concerning.”
HB 1731 would strengthen these standards, as well as ensuring that relevant information goes out to first responders in the event of an accident and that data on testing is accessible to the public.
Opponents from the autonomous-vehicle industry say these are onerous standards not required in any other state. Industry groups are instead backing House Bill 2100, a similar measure with fewer requirements for sending data.
Recent data from the U.S. Department of Transportation finds the first nine months of 2021 were the deadliest on the road since 2006.
Larry Shannon is the government affairs director for the Washington State Association for Justice, and supports HB 1731. He said while driverless technology has potential, it still has a long way to go – noting that vehicles struggle to perceive animals and pedestrians or recognize weather patterns.
“It’s a promise that’s being made to the public,” said Shannon, “that we will have these vehicles that can operate safely and in our current and future driving environments, more safely than human drivers. Given the questions around the current capabilities of this technology, the safeguards need to be in place and need to remain in place that are in this bill.”
There have been several deaths involving self-driving cars, including an Arizona pedestrian in 2018.
Shannon said every combination of car technology will be sharing the road as we move toward more autonomous vehicles.
“We need to keep that in mind as we think about how we’re going to control and regulate and integrate the different vehicles moving forward,” said Shannon.
Both HB 1731 and HB 2100 are in the House Committee on Transportation.
Featured image: Companies are testing autonomous vehicles across 36 states, including Washington. (Lev Karavanov/Adobe Stock)