The Federal Committee on Automation, an advisory board made up of politicians and auto and tech executives, is inactive and has not met since January, reports Recode.
As the Department of Transportation (DOT) continues to grapple with how to best pave the way for the safe testing and eventual introduction of fully autonomous vehicles to roads around the US, the lack of active engagement with the tech community could prove to be a roadblock.
Regulations — or lack thereof — could hold up wider testing of autonomous vehicles and delay their introduction to consumers. Federal law in the US lets the DOT grant companies exemptions to federal safety standards so they can perform tests, but only with up to 2,500 vehicles a year and for up to three years. Autonomous car tests have been limited so far, consisting of a handful of vehicles on the road at any given time. But Intel and Mobileye will be testing 100 cars around the world in the next few months, while Waymo will expand its test fleet with at least 500 additional custom-designed vehicles from Fiat Chrysler. Before too long, companies will begin bumping up against the limits of DOT exemptions.
Congress is working on passing new laws to govern autonomous cars, but inactivity at the DOT could prove problematic. Drafts of the bills proposed have put the responsibility for determining specific safety requirements for autonomous vehicles on the DOT, giving the agency two years from the law’s adoption to create such regulations. But key posts within the department remain unfilled, including the role of director of the critical National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. And even when those roles are filled, officials will have to deal with backlogs of issues. The development and deployment of autonomous vehicles depends heavily on the cooperation of regulators to make way for rapidly evolving technology, and a lack of flexibility could stymie this critical innovation.