Google told U.S. senators that the federal government should fast-track rules to enable automated cars on U.S. roads so America can remain ahead of Europe, Japan and China in the technology. On Tuesday, Google’s director of its search giant’s driverless car unit, Chris Urmson, said other countries are “hot on our heels.” Congress can empower the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to approve self-driving car innovations quickly.

Google Asks Senate Committee To Fast-Track Automated Car Rules

Lack of unified rules

Urmson told the Senate Commerce Committee that the viability of robotic cars in the U.S. is threatened by a growing patchwork of state regulations. He said that without unified rules, the vehicles won’t be able to travel between states, creating a challenge in delivering the technology in the country.

“Where we’re most concerned is bringing this to market,” Urmson said. “In the past two years, 23 states have introduced 53 pieces of legislation that affect self-driving cars — all of which include different approaches and concepts.”

Andrew Ng, chief scientist for Baidu, which plans to deliver commercial robot cars on Chinese roads by 2018, said it is very challenging to rely on human drivers to take over. A preliminary report was issued by the traffic safety administration that explains that automated cars without steering wheels or brake pedals do not follow federal rules and would require an exemption.

Is Google’s car ready for the roads?

Google is facing pending rules barring fully automated vehicles in California. DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez said the draft rules from the Department of Motor Vehicles require human-override capabilities in case of emergency. These rules are likely to be adopted, but federal regulations from the traffic safety administration would supersede California’s rules.

John Simpson, the consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog, noted that even in Google’s own testing of its automated vehicles, drivers had to take control of the car again and again.

“Two hundred seventy-two times essentially the computer said, ‘I can’t handle this,’ and turned over control. The test driver felt compelled to intervene 69 times. The DMV has got it exactly right,” Simpson said.

Gonzalez said that the DMV held public hearings on developing draft regulations, and Consumer Watchdog’s safety advocates were mostly the ones opposingself-driving cars. Gonzalez said that many times, people do not even know enough about the technology to be concerned, but the recent crash between the Google car and the bus made people think differently.