Mar 28, 2017 - Technology

The potential of self-driving cars

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Every year on our nation's roadways, more than 35,000 people tragically lose their lives due to traffic accidents—a large number of them caused by distracted driving.

With so many traffic fatalities resulting from human error, we have to ask ourselves if there is a better way. American innovation may have the answer to this problem — in the form of self-driving cars.

While it may seem like science fiction, the reality is that technological breakthroughs have allowed for deployment of these cars to be right around the corner.

Recently, I chaired a hearing of the Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee where my colleagues and I listened to industry leaders testify about the possibilities of their self-driving vehicles. The takeaway was clear: the heavy hand of government can't obstruct the development of such vital, life-saving technology. While there is no doubt that safety parameters will be needed, we should be leaving the innovating to the innovators.

Of course, self-driving cars are not just about improving safety; they would positively impact the quality of life for countless Americans. For instance, the increased mobility that self-driving cars would provide for individuals with disabilities or underserved communities would make it easier for them to get to and from their job, take a trip to the grocery store, and go to the doctor.

At the same time, seniors would be aided by the use of self-driving cars as well. Many of us can think of family members that will benefit from the freedom that this new form of transportation would provide.

So, what role does Congress play with such brand new technology? The first role is to be both a listener and observer. While concerns of government overreach were mentioned in our recent hearing, these stakeholders also brought up the difficulty of planning, testing, and deploying technology with the prospect of facing an inconsistent patchwork of rules across 50 different states. We have to ensure that innovators have the certainty they need to thrive.

Like game-changing innovation of the past 50 years — the personal computer, the mobile phone, and the internet — self-driving cars have the potential to improve the lives of millions. Congress needs to take the right, measured approach to allow innovative minds do what they do best and change the world.

Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) serves the fifth district of Ohio in the House of Representatives. He is a member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee where he serves as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection.

Go deeper