That's the message executives from companies pursuing self-driving technology delivered Tuesday to a Congressional committee examining autonomous innovations. Without uniform standards for both vehicles and drivers that transcend state lines, they fear it would be difficult to implement an autonomous era on the nation's roads.
"We face a growing patchwork of laws and regulations that has the potential to become unworkable," said Chris Urmson, (pictured on left), project director of Google's self-driving program.
To date, four US states have set their own standards for the testing of autonomous cars on their roadways. California has issued preliminary regulations that would require a driver in autonomobiles – a position potentially at odds with burgeoning federal guidance that suggests self-driving technology could be considered the driver of a vehicle.
"If this approach was around during the time of the Wright Brothers, we'd never have gotten off the ground." – Sen. Cory Booker
In January, the Department of Transportation announced plans to accelerate the adoption of a framework for companies pursuing autonomous technology and said it would make efforts to clear bureaucratic hurdles to their deployment. Tuesday's hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee was the most recent effort for the legislative branch to stay apprised of developments.
Congressional leaders asked a wide range of questions about the technical progress of autonomous driving, and the readiness of consumers to accept the technology. They also expressed concerns about the privacy of data generated by autonomous cars. But a primary concern was that the US was falling behind because it had not yet addressed self-driving regulations from a federal level.
"If this approach was around during the time of the Wright Brothers, we'd never have gotten off the ground," said Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey). "Other countries are clearly leap-frogging over us in providing friendly regulatory environments."