Point: In The Name Of Safety, They Should Allow Testing Of Driverless Cars On Their Roads

In this week’s Point/Counterpoint writers are addressing the question: Should U.S. cities allow testing of driverless cars?

The State Journal-Register cited Marc Scribner about how local jurisdictions are not qualified to determine the legality of driverless cars and that their lack of understanding and resources in determining such matters will cause a patchwork of cities with different regulations imposed on implementing driverless vehicles on the road.

Previously, cities’ autonomous vehicle testing programs have been designed to make up for states’ inaction. Pittsburgh, for example, touted its more streamlined process when Pennsylvania was slow to act. But as states catch up and federal safety guidance continues to improve, fewer cities need their own processes. Going forward, local governments are more likely to create duplicative burdens that chase away innovators.

As Washington, D.C., transportation policy experts Ian Adams of the R Street Institute and Marc Scribner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute recently noted “local jurisdictions simply are not qualified to evaluate what is ‘safe’ behavior when it comes to vehicle design, safety or performance.”

Safety requirements for cars are regulated federally by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with additional state regulations occasionally creating additional requirements.

San Francisco won’t be the last major city to impose additional safety checks on autonomous vehicles. Unless states place clear limits on local governments, they’ll wind up with a wild west-style patchwork of neighboring cities full of differing ideas about which types of cars are legal and which aren’t. If a large enough group of cities contradicts a state’s laws, they may even prevent such innovation from developing anywhere in the state.

In that type of environment, many driverless car companies may simply decide not to try. In response, Texas stated that local governments cannot impose additional regulations on autonomous vehicles.

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