July 26, 2023 Blog

Break America's AV Logjam

By John Bozzella

Thank you for the invitation to share my perspective on the future of autonomous vehicles in the United States.

In my view, there is no safety or mobility solution with as much promise for the travelling public as autonomous vehicle technology.

My written testimony outlines the urgent need for a federal AV regulatory framework to get more AVs on the road and protect American leadership in autonomy.

I’d like to use this time to describe my most recent experience in an AV – just a few days ago in San Francisco.

Here’s my report from the front:

I summoned the AV on my phone. It arrived quickly and for 90 minutes shuttled me to several destinations I chose.

The driving was careful. Careful and competent.

My AV seamlessly navigated double-parked cars, swerving cyclists, pedestrians crossing the street late at night, flashing red lights at intersections and other vehicle traffic.

This wasn’t a closed track with foam dummies and fake buildings…

This wasn’t a DARPA-challenge or science experiment…

This wasn’t a tech-show ride-and-drive with an engineer in the driver’s seat… hands hovering over the steering wheel.

This was full self-driving in real world conditions.

And the technology worked. It worked perfectly, in fact.

It got me where I needed to be. Calmly. Methodically. Carefully. Safely.

THAT is what made my experience so powerful. Even for someone like me, who’s seen virtually every innovation in this industry over the last 25 years.

And the good news? It will only get better. The software will learn from my ride… and every ride in the future.

Why? Because the more an AV operates, the more it learns… and the better the technology gets.

So, if the technology works now and will continue to improve exponentially over time, there’s only one remaining question:

Do we want this safety technology to exist and the vehicles to be built and to operate here in the U.S. instead of China?

This is a question that can only be answered by federal policymakers.

The truth is: government has been bogged down on AVs. Even with bipartisan support, for almost a decade there has been virtually no forward movement on federal AV rules.

In spite of this lag and the legal constraints, AV innovators have still managed to notch some growth.

But there’s a ceiling to that growth. 

Barring a regulatory framework that delivers some certainty in the near future, I predict two things will happen:

Some AV companies will not succeed, and

The technology and supply chains for this innovation will migrate to China and other countries establishing the right operating conditions.

That’s as plain as I can say it.

A similar dynamic happened with electric vehicle batteries.

China locked up the global supply of critical minerals and raw materials for EV batteries because, candidly, it was impossible to process, mine and build here.

That’s starting to change, but we’re still playing catchup.

It would be a shame if history repeated itself with AVs, because the technology works, and it will continue to improve.

Are AVs perfect? No.

Do occasional glitches or fender benders matter? Yes.

But tens of thousands of traffic deaths on U.S. roads because of reckless, drunk or distracted humans? That matters too.

So does accessible transportation for seniors or individuals with disabilities.

So does a chance to reduce traffic congestion and create new jobs and businesses.

I’m sure it’s rare that somebody from the private sector comes before you to ask – to plead – for their business to be regulated by the federal government.

But this is exactly what we’re seeking.

We’re not asking for taxpayer money.

We’re not asking for you to skirt or bypass a single safety gate.

We’re simply asking Congress to do something that only it can: pass a balanced, federal AV framework – with safeguards, oversight, rules and regulation – to give this transformative technology a chance to succeed in the United States.

On this point, we’re grateful to the leadership of Chairman Latta and Congresswoman Dingell, as well as the leaders of the committee, for their bipartisan work to keep innovation here and prevent a capital and knowledge exodus to countries like China.

Self-driving is hard. It's new. It's different.

On behalf of the AV developers and the Americans who will benefit from autonomy: let’s work together to break America’s AV logjam.

John Bozzella is president and CEO of Alliance for Automotive Innovation.

*Testimony as prepared for delivery at House Innovation, Data, and Commerce Subcommittee legislative hearing: “Self-Driving Vehicle Legislative Framework: Enhancing Safety, Improving Lives and Mobility, and Beating China,” July 26, 2023.*