Opinion: Self-driving car bill provides opportunity to save lives

Glenn Stevens
This March 24, 2017 photo, provided by the Tempe Police Department, shows an Uber self-driving SUV that flipped on its side in a collision in Tempe, Ariz. The crash serves as a stark reminder of the challenges surrounding autonomous vehicles in Arizona.

Self-driving cars and smart infrastructure enable dramatic improvements in safety and hold incredible promise to decrease deaths and serious injuries from automobile accidents. They also offer enormous potential for our region’s economic growth. It is imperative that Michigan lead the way in the development and testing of this technology.

Our state and country’s global competitiveness depend on our ability to advance this technology. We are in a key position to guide this transformational change in mobility, just as Michigan led the way in the mass production of the automobile over a century ago. But we face tough competition from countries like China, Korea, Germany and Sweden that are already working to outpace us by prioritizing national policies for self-driving cars and giving domestic manufacturers a competitive edge in developing safer, advanced vehicles.

Michigan’s Legislature has already taken a leadership role — passing some of the nation’s most forward-looking state laws to support testing for self-driving vehicles. Congress must take action to create federal policy that will keep the United States — and Michigan — at the forefront of this new automotive industry.

Our state is fortunate to have U.S. Sen. Gary Peters leading the charge to advance self-driving technology at the federal level with the AV START Act — bipartisan legislation he introduced with U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.

The Detroit Regional Chamber supports the bill’s common-sense approach to provide a clear oversight structure for the safe development of self-driving cars. The bill ensures vehicle safety is a priority in the short-term, while directing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to write the comprehensive safety regulations we will need as self-driving vehicles become increasingly prevalent. To aid that process, the bill also creates a technical advisory committee that will bring together policy experts from industry, government and the safety community, among others, to inform these new safety regulations.

Some organizations have raised critiques of the legislation, claiming it does not do enough to make self-driving cars safer. Nearly 40,000 lives are lost on our roads every year, and hundreds of thousands more are seriously maimed or injured in automotive accidents. In many ways, our society has come to accept this statistic as a fact of life, but self-driving vehicles have the potential to eliminate 94 percent of accidents caused by human error and save thousands of lives.

Our Michigan automotive manufacturers and suppliers know that nothing would hinder development or stop consumers from adopting this technology more than putting unsafe products on our roads. But in order to unlock the full lifesaving potential of self-driving cars, companies need the federal government to create the new rules of the road — like the framework established in Peters’ AV START Act — to give them certainty and consistency to advance their innovations.

The Chamber appreciates Peters’ efforts to ensure that our nation’s leadership role in the development of self-driving technology is a top economic, safety and national security priority. We must harness the opportunity we have to lead in the self-driving car race — starting with passing the AV START Act — or we risk losing the opportunity to achieve new milestones in vehicle safety and ceding Michigan’s foothold as the world leader in automotive innovation.

Glenn Stevens is the vice president of automotive and mobility initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber.