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Google to Congress: Go Easy, Hurry Up on Self-Driving Car Regulations

You can’t stop technological progress… unless you’re the government.
Image: Google

Representatives from Google, General Motors, automotive parts maker Delphi, and Lyft had one message for Congress on Tuesday afternoon: We welcome government regulation… just not if it's onerous.

At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, executives like Dr. Chris Urmson, the Director of Self-Driving Cars at Google X, and Joseph Okpaku, the Vice President of Government Regulations at Lyft (which in January partnered with GM for the development of a network of self-driving cars), pleaded with Sen. John Thune (R-SD) for updated regulations that would allow their companies to expand and accelerate the testing of self-driving cars.


"Current regulations—including most of the [Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards]—were written at a time when a self-driving car was nothing more than an idea," said Dr. Urmson, adding that Congress should "move swiftly" to devise updated regulations that would support the "development of innovative safety technologies." Pointing to a specific concern, Urmson noted that Google was "disappointed" when the California Department of Motor Vehicles late last year released draft regulations that would prevent "fully self-driving cars," or self-driving cars without a person who's able to intervene in its steering, from appearing on the state's roads.

Lyft, for its part, drew parallels with its experience of dealing with regulations in the early days of the ridesharing industry, with government affairs VP Joseph Okpaku describing unwelcome regulation that may slow the development of self-driving cars as an "unpredictable interface of the government."

The Senate hearing came two weeks after the first car accident caused by one of Google's self-driving cars. In the accident, a Google self-driving car hit the side of a bus at about 2 miles per hour after it veered away from sandbags that were blocking its own lane. At this week's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, Dr. Urmson said Google's self-driving cars now "know how to deal with" the scenario that caused that particular crash.

Not all of the hearing's attendees were present to ask Congress to streamline the regulatory process in order to hasten the dawn of a self-driving car utopia. In pressing for strict regulations for the development of self-driving cars, Dr. Mary Louise Cummings, director at the Humans and Autonomy Lab and Duke Robotics at Duke University, belittled Google's boasts that its self-driving cars had driven two million miles "accident-free."

"While I applaud this achievement," she told the committee, "New York taxi cabs drive two million miles in a day and a half."