Gill Pratt

Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute

Toyota to Urge Moratorium on State Self-Driving Car Regulations

"A clear and unequivocal statutory or regulatory prohibition on states regulating vehicle performance of autonomous vehicle technology would help to halt or prevent the emergence of a patchwork of state laws."

A senior Toyota Motor Corp. (IW 1000/6) executive is urging the federal government to keep states from setting their own autonomous vehicle rules, something carmakers say could threaten the emerging industry with a patchwork of contradictory regulations.

"A clear and unequivocal statutory or regulatory prohibition on states regulating vehicle performance of autonomous vehicle technology would help to halt or prevent the emergence of a patchwork of state laws," Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, said in testimony prepared for a House subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.

Automakers and technology companies are racing to develop autonomous vehicles, spurring new partnerships between Detroit and Silicon Valley. General Motors Co. plans to deploy a fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolts operated by ride-share provider Lyft Inc. Ford Motor Co. has announced a $1 billion investment in Pittsburgh-based artificial intelligence company Argo AI to develop the "brain" for autonomous cars Ford plans to introduce in 2021.

Pratt and executives from other companies developing autonomous cars including General Motors, Volvo Cars NV and Lyft plan to urge lawmakers to take steps to thwart a flood of inconsistent autonomous vehicle rules that they say will hinder work behind those investments.

Bills Recently Introduced in 20 States

Anders Karrberg, Volvo’s vice president of government affairs, said in prepared remarks that 48 autonomous vehicle bills have been introduced in 20 states in the last two months alone. He said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should add an "explicit request" to its autonomous vehicle policy released last September for states to refrain from taking up self-driving laws or rules.

"Constrictive legislation and regulations" present "the greatest potential obstacle" to harnessing the benefits of autonomous vehicles, said Joseph Okpaku, Lyft’s vice president of government relations.

Mike Abelson, GM’s vice president of global strategy, also plans to call for changes to federal auto safety standards, which currently assume a human driver will be behind the wheel.

"Without changes to those regulations, it may be years before the promise of today’s technology can be realized and thousands of preventable deaths that could have been avoided will happen," Abelson said in prepared remarks.

Those regulations will get a fresh look by Republican Senator John Thune and Senator Gary Peters, a Democrat from Michigan, who said Monday they plan to jointly examine legislation aimed at clearing roadblocks facing autonomous vehicles.

"Left on its own, the slow pace of regulation could become a significant obstacle to the development of new and safer vehicle technology in the United States," the duo said in a joint statement.

Thune chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the Department of Transportation. Peters is also sits on the committee.

By Ryan Beene

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