Fully Self-Driving Cars May Get Here a Lot Faster Thanks to a New Law

Cars without steering wheels aren't as far off as you might think.

Getty Images / Harold Cunningham

Drivers, hold onto your seats … because soon there may not be a steering wheel.

A Senate deal with bipartisan support for fast-tracking the approval of self-driving cars in the U.S. was reached in Washington D.C. on Wednesday.

According to Reuters, the final text of this legislation — which is likely quite similar to a bill that passed the House with unanimous support earlier this month — was released in full on Thursday. That House bill permits car companies to certify 25,000 self-driving cars in its first year, then increasing that number to 100,000 within the next two. It also gives states freedom to pass their own rules concerning the specifics, like licensing and safety inspections.

“We expect adoption of self-driving vehicle technologies will save lives, improve mobility for people with disabilities, and create new jobs,” U.S. Senators Gary Peters and John Thune, who chairs the Commerce Committee, said in a joint statement to the news agency.

The thing that’s most striking about this legislation is that it would permit cars that do not have steering wheels or pedals on the road once approved by federal regulators. At present, self-driving cars are required to come with manual controls for drivers to use.

What this will mean for the future of the road is hard to say for certain. To some degree, autonomous cars are safer than those driven by humans. That’s because automation isn’t susceptible to distraction or other impairments, like being intoxicated. But there is some concern that widespread use of driverless cars might make us more reckless and put professional human drivers out of business.

Truckers, at least, might not worry quite yet. As reported by Reuters, unnamed sources say that self-driving commercial trucks are not included in the legislation.

While many fear that a future full of self-driving cargo might automate away the livelihood of over 3.5 million truckers throughout the country, American Trucking Associations president Chris Spear has downplayed that notion.

Testifying before the Senate earlier in the month, Spear suggested truckers’ roles would change rather than being entirely eliminated and said, “The bottom line is that the trucking industry is vitally interested in automated vehicle technologies and the safety and efficiency promise they hold.”

The omittance of self-driving trucks in this legislation may come as a blow to Tesla founder Elon Musk, who has previously sought California state approval to test his long-awaited Tesla Semi as an autonomous vehicle.

If you liked this article, check out this video on five reasons to get excited about self-driving cars.

Related Tags