Before autonomous vehicles, commonly referred to as self-driving cars, can become a normal sight on our highways and streets, lawmakers have to be convinced of their safety. Some members of the U.S. Senate have not been convinced that the technology and regulations are in place to allow these vehicles on public roads.

Safety Concerns Delay Legislation

Currently, proposed legislation called the AV START Act is stalled in the U.S. Senate amid largely partisan disagreement. California Sen. Diane Feinstein has placed a hold on the bill because she's concerned that the technology behind these cars has not been sufficiently perfected to make them safe.

Two of her Democratic colleagues, Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey, have expressed other concerns, including what happens if the software fails as well as about cybersecurity and data privacy issues.

How Much Regulation Is Required?

A key source of conflict is how much regulatory power the government will have over these vehicles. The bill, as currently written, gives carmakers considerable leeway in getting exemptions from current safety regulations and forbids individual states from imposing their own performance and development restrictions.

The auto industry is in favor of fewer regulations because it will encourage investment in the technology used to operate the vehicles. However public interest groups have raised concerns about the lack of safety standards.

Backers of the Bill Assert That Self-Driving Cars Are Safer

Republican South Dakota Sen. John Thune, who is championing the AV START Act, says he's willing to incorporate Feinstein and others' concerns into the bill "as long as it doesn't move it too far into a more regulatory, sort of heavy government direction."

Sen. Gary Peters, a Democrat from Michigan who helped write the bill, touted the safety of self-driving vehicles. He said, "The quicker we get this done the better because the faster we get the technology developed, the faster we start saving thousands of lives on our highways."

Sen. Thune says that lawmakers have talked with attorneys in drafting the bill about liability issues surrounding these self-driving vehicles. The question of what individuals and/or companies can be held liable if an autonomous vehicle causes a crash should be of concern to everyone on the road, regardless of what kind of vehicle they drive. Car accident attorneys will be watching the legislation and changes to the law closely so that they can advise their clients of their legal options if they are injured by an autonomous vehicle.