The United States is ahead of the pack in the development of self-driving vehicles, but it could lose its lead unless the federal government acts swiftly to regulate and test the technology, the president and CEO of Volvo said in a speech today.
Meanwhile, other autonomous experts worried that too much regulation too soon would stifle technology development.
“Europe has suffered to some extent,” Volvo President and CEO Hakan Samuelsson told the audience at a Washington seminar organized by Volvo on the future of self-driving cars. “It would be a shame if the U.S. took a similar path to Europe in this crucial area.”
Samuelsson said that for autonomous vehicle makers to develop “credible tests,” the U.S. needs one set of rules to regulate the operation of and liability for autonomous vehicles, not a piecemeal approach by 50 states.
Samuelsson added that legislators and carmakers need to work together to hash out regulation for who is liable when a car is hacked or involved in a crash, and announced that Volvo is ready to accept full liability for when its cars are in autonomous mode. This came after the company announced details of its forthcoming IntelliSafe Auto Pilot self-driving system, which will be installed in one hundred 2016 XC90s for a 2017 self-driving pilot project in Sweden.
John Maddox, assistant director of the University of Michigan's Mobility Transformation Center, said the government is “actually moving pretty quickly” on regulation for connected vehicles, the technology that allows for the flow of data between vehicles and to other connected devices. “They announced over a year ago their intention to move into the rulemaking, which could mandate the equipment of connected technology on vehicles,” he said. And recently, “they announced they were going to accelerate that timetable.”*
Maddox, who is a leader of a long-term project testing 3,000 connected vehicles on the roads of Ann Arbor, Mich., cautioned against jumping into regulation too early. “I wouldn’t agree with the folks who are criticizing the federal government for moving too slow. At this point we don’t necessarily need regulation. We need good development.”
Bastiaan Krosse, program manager for automated driving at applied research institute TNO in the Netherlands, said that Europe is grappling with similar regulation challenges. Countries including Greece, the UK, Germany and Sweden have developed their own legislation, but the European Union has not yet laid out unified regulations.
“There’s awareness that this is something that needs to be harmonized,” he said.
Sam Abuelsamid, an auto industry analyst for Navigant, said that overarching regulation for autonomous vehicles is “premature” and what the government needs now is to develop “some minimum performance standards for these systems that can be tested.”
Nevada was the first state to authorize testing self-driving cars on the road, followed by California, Florida, Michigan, North Dakota and Tennessee. Nine other states have legislation pending. No states have laws explicitly banning self-driving vehicles from the road.
*This paragraph has been amended because it originally mistakenly indicated Maddox was referring to autonomous vehicle legislation, not connected vehicles.