Blackberry CEO urges U.S. Senate to pass driverless car legislation


Blackberry CEO John Chen has signed a letter addressed to members of the U.S. Senate, urging them to pass legislation that will be game changing for self-driving cars.

The bill in question is the American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies Act (AV START), which if passed could speed up the pace of driverless cars hitting the roads.

The letter, submitted on July 23, asks the Senate to move forward with the bill, stating its importance for creating clear industry-wide performance standards for the vehicles and touting the safety benefits of driverless cars.

“While there are a number of compelling reasons to pass the AV START Act, the most important factor is the potential for lives to be saved,” the letter states, referencing data that shows 94 per cent of car accidents are caused by human choice or error.

In a personal letter released earlier this year, Chen said, “Self-driving vehicles are poised to significantly reduce the number of road accidents and deaths by eliminating human drivers and therefore human error. This translates to positive GDP growth.”

Blackberry’s interest in the American bill is likely related to its expanding interests in the car industry in recent years.

The Canadian tech giant famously purchased in-car software firm ONX in 2010, and is now present in 50 per cent of automotive infotainment software. BlackBerry QNX continues to develop automotive software and has partnered with companies to develop their own self-automated vehicles.

The letter to the U.S. Senate was signed by 108 stakeholders, including car manufacturers like GM and Tesla, tech companies including Intel, and even safety groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

It comes at a time when AV START has been facing opposition from within and outside of Senate walls. Currently five Democratic senators oppose the passage of the bill in its current state, and advocacy groups have also sent letters over what they claim are lax safety and regulatory concerns in the legislation.

Meanwhile the stakeholder letter argues that “The legislation will help provide a clear delineation of federal and state roles, a critical aspect that will protect against a patchwork of regulations that could stifle innovation, job growth, and the development of safety technologies.”

Chen noted that industry and consumer groups have been asking governments around the world to develop these type of regulations.

“Federal government regulations and safety standards are key to delivering the much-needed focus on safety and bringing the envisioned benefits of autonomous vehicles to fruition. Without them the technology is in danger of being made available before it is ready,” he said.

So far in Canada, the only province allowing driverless cars to be tested on public roads is Ontario, and while the federal Senate has released a report about automated vehicles, recommending action from the federal government, there is no Canadian legislation on the table similar to AV START.

“The AV START Act represents an historic opportunity for Congress to establish a technology neutral regulatory framework to advance these groundbreaking technologies while supporting research and investment in the United States,” said the stakeholder letter.

Chen calls AV START “a good place to begin with the ultimate goal being to have a globally harmonized policy.”


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