Self-driving vehicles will need to be equipped with cybersecurity technology to prevent them from being used in terrorist attacks, according to legislation passed by the US House of Representatives on Wednesday.
With substantial bipartisan support in a voice vote, the House approved the so-called Self Drive Act, which seeks to speed the introduction of self-driving vehicles on US roads by streamlining the regulatory process.
A new law does not appear to be imminent, however, as corresponding legislation is yet to be introduced in the Senate.
Recent terror attacks in Charlottesville, London, Nice and elsewhere have involved vehicles being driven into crowds.
Under the House bill, self-driving or autonomous vehicles would need to be equipped with defenses against hacking, “unauthorized intrusions and false and spurious messages or vehicle control commands”.
“I am pleased that proper cybersecurity protections are in place in this bill … to prevent and tackle potential hacks and/or terrorism,” said Yvette Clarke, a Democrat from New York, in a floor speech.
Proponents of autonomous vehicles say they will reduce highway deaths, provide greater mobility for seniors and disabled people and cut fuel consumption.
Critics point out that truck driving is one of the most common occupations in the US. According to a May report from Goldman Sachs Economics Research, an estimated 300,000 driving jobs could be lost each year to self-driving technology.
The House bill asserts federal regulatory authority over “highly automated vehicles” and limits state-by-state oversight. Preventing a patchwork of state regulations from cropping up before mass production of self-driving vehicles gets under way will help the market for the vehicles take hold, industry observers say.
Consumer advocates have expressed concern about constraining the states.
“The main concern is that it does away with the states’ ability to have any safety standards in place,” John Simpson, spokesman for the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, told the Mercury News. “All we’ve gotten is some loose guidance.”
Safety on US highways under current rules is poor and deteriorating. Deaths in motor vehicle accidents in 2016 rose by 6% to 40,200, according to National Safety Council estimates.
The legislation also requires the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to “identify elements that may require performance standards” including “human-machine interface, sensors, and actuators”.
The conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute has criticized the bill, saying that the NHTSA is not equipped to write and enforce cybersecurity standards.