Automakers and tech companies face a bumpy road to clearing regulatory roadblocks to deploying autonomous vehicles (AVs) without human controls on public roads, industry officials and lawmakers said. On Wednesday, Ford Motor Co and Volkswagen AG said they would shutter self-driving startup Argo AI, saying the technology was a long way off. The same is true when it comes to rules around the technology as well. Legislation in Congress has been stalled for more than five years over how to amend regulations to encompass self-driving cars, including the scope of consumer and legal protections.

And U.S. regulators have given no indication when they might act on petitions to initially approve a few thousand self-driving cars on U.S. roads without steering wheels or brake pedals. Officials with the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Thursday declined to say when they might act.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said this month he has “very high hopes for the theoretical possibility that self-driving cars and high-tech cars will save thousands and thousands of lives because human beings have a basically murderous track record as drivers of cars. But we’re not there yet.”
Some in the industry and in Washington also see developing self-driving vehicle technology as a competitive issue.

Many lawmakers and the industry have urged Buttigieg to develop a comprehensive federal framework for autonomous vehicles, warning the United States could lose the AV race to China. “We lag behind in shaping a regulatory framework that will foster this innovation while simultaneously protecting and encouraging all of the important benefits we believe autonomous vehicles are capable of delivering,” a dozen Democratic U.S. senators wrote in April. The letter cited efforts by competitors, particularly China, who “have significantly invested in autonomous and connected vehicle technologies.”

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