CEI Flags Flaws with New Obama Driverless Car Policy

The Obama administration today put out long-awaited regulatory guidance on self-driving cars. CEI transportation policy expert Marc Scribner says that along with some sensible policies, there are some flaws that both regulators and Congress must address, because this emerging technology has great potential to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities and improve mobility and access for many people.

Statement by Marc Scribner, Fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute:

We applaud the Department of Transportation’s thoughtful approach to automated vehicle regulation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) guidance document provides mostly sensible recommendations. However, we are disappointed with a few failings. 

Highway safety and access to qualified test drivers is crucial. But NHTSA failed to include a test driver license reciprocity provision in their model policy recommendations. If states with metropolitan areas that span across multiple states fail to recognize out-of-state licenses, they are unreasonably restricting the test driver labor pool, which increases costs and access to qualified test drivers, perhaps perversely reducing highway safety. The District of Columbia has been struggling for several years with such a provision, for example; so this represents an unacceptable omission from NHTSA.

Second, to prevent unnecessary cost and delay, Congress must reject any attempts to replace or augment NHTSA’s traditional self-certification process with pre-market approval authority. Developers operating under the European Commission’s type approval process have repeatedly warned NHTSA and North American developers that pre-market approval will only add cost and delay.

Finally, Congress must provide aggressive oversight over NHTSA’s existing regulatory mechanisms, namely letters of interpretation and exemptions. Congress should monitor trends in determination times for both of these mechanisms, and examine NHTSA’s potential need for additional resources to ensure interpretations and exemptions are processed in a timely manner. Congress and NHTSA both must recognize that any unnecessary delays or additional costs to bringing automated vehicle technology to market will mean additional traffic injuries and fatalities.

Related: A Free Market Response to the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy