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"Without changes ... it may be years before the promise of today's technology can be realized and thousands of preventable deaths that could have been avoided will happen," said GM global strategy VP Mike Abelson.

General Motors, Toyota and other industry players have kicked off a lobbying campaign for regulatory changes that could help accelerate deployment of fully autonomous cars.

Automakers have warned of potential trouble bringing the technology to market, thanks to a patchwork of new state-level regulations and archaic federal safety laws written decades ago. The arguments are now being presented with a higher tone of urgency as self-driving systems inch closer to production.

"Without changes to those regulations, it may be years before the promise of today's technology can be realized and thousands of preventable deaths that could have been avoided will happen," GM global strategy VP Mike Abelson wrote in written testimony for a US House panel, as quoted by Reuters.

The executive specifically claimed automakers must be able to test larger numbers of vehicles equipped with such technology, apparently referring to the current regulations that limit regulatory exemptions to a fleet of just 2,500 vehicles each year.

Toyota Research Institute chief Gill Pratt's testimony focuses on regulations that appear to present roadblocks as automakers bring autonomous technology to market. He argues that vehicle safety standards must be revised to address laws that are "inconsistent with or incompatible with autonomous vehicle technology."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last year promised to "use all of its available tools" to accelerate deployment of autonomous technology, but the necessary testing exemptions do not apply to production vehicles and any formal rule changes could take years to complete.

Automakers are apparently hoping legislators will pass new federal regulations to remove the red tape. The NHTSA has acknowledged that such technology could help eliminate 94 percent of fatal crashes that trace back to human error.