By Representative Mimi Walters
Growing up, many of us imagined that we would eventually travel in flying cars. While flying cars are not a reality, the burgeoning self-driving vehicle industry has the potential to revolutionize the way we live, including saving thousands of lives each year. However, before we can fully deploy self-driving vehicles on American roads, comprehensive testing and safety evaluations must occur.
The SELF DRIVE Act, which unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 6, would promote self-driving technology innovation while ensuring these vehicles are safe for the road. As this new technology enters the marketplace, consumers should have access to the safest products possible.
Sadly, traffic fatalities are on the rise in California and across the nation. In Orange County, over 150 people have died in traffic accidents each year since 2012. Statewide, in 2015 alone, there were over 3,000 traffic fatalities. That same year, over 35,000 people died on American roads nationwide.
Approximately 94 percent of all traffic accidents are attributed to human error. Eventually, self-driving vehicles will eliminate the need for human involvement, considerably reducing traffic accidents. Once this technology is fully developed and deployed, up to 30,000 lives could be saved each year.
The early stages of self-driving technology are already making driving safer. Safety systems such as automatic emergency braking and lane control assist are available in many current model years. Automobile manufacturers continue to develop advanced technologies, like emergency override controls, which will improve traffic safety and save lives.
I’ve been helping to advance the SELF DRIVE Act, which would modernize federal vehicle safety standards to allow for the development of safe self-driving vehicle technology. Under these updated standards, self-driving vehicle manufacturers would be required to submit safety assessment certifications to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal agency responsible for keeping people safe on the roads.
Importantly, under this legislation, all self-driving vehicle testing data must be submitted to NHTSA to help the agency develop additional safety rules and standards. NHTSA already regulates the safety, design, construction, and performance of these vehicles to ensure they are safe on the roads, and will continue to do so under the SELF DRIVE Act.
I’m proud to have secured language in the bill that would allow non-traditional vehicle manufacturers, such as tech and ride-hailing companies, to test self-driving vehicle technology. By expanding the types of companies that can test this technology, we can ensure that the safest self-driving vehicles enter the marketplace. Allowing a broader group of companies to participate in self-driving vehicle testing will provide additional testing information, ultimately ensuring the safety of self-driving vehicles.
Whether or not you purchase or directly use a self-driving vehicle, you can be assured that these vehicles have undergone extensive testing to meet NHTSA’s rigorous safety standards because of the SELF DRIVE Act.
In addition to safety benefits, self-driving vehicles can improve our lives in other ways.
Orange County residents waste a significant amount of time sitting in traffic. Self-driving vehicles have the potential to mitigate congestion on crowded roadways, allowing you to spend time with your families, pursue a hobby, or serve your communities. This technology creates more efficient traffic patterns and flow by reducing traffic accidents and increasing communication between self-driving vehicles.
Self-driving vehicles can also offer increased mobility for Americans who are unable to drive on their own. Self-driving vehicles can improve mobility for seniors, and individuals with disabilities and limited mobility. This technology can offer increased independence for these individuals and improve their quality of life.
Self-driving vehicles hold enormous promise to save lives, improve the way we live, and encourage American innovation. Once deployed, I look forward to seeing the revolutionary changes this technology will make in our daily lives.
Mimi Walters represents the 45th Congressional District.