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Self-Driving Cars Could Become an Unexpected Victim of Boeing’s Fatal 737 Max Crashes

The recent crashes of two Boeing 737 Max jets raise questions about whether U.S. transportation regulators are ready for self-driving cars, trucks and other forms of automated transportation, Representative David Price, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s transportation panel, said Wednesday.

Investigators suspect a new automated system on Boeing’s latest narrow-body jet that pushes the nose down to prevent a stall played a role in 737 Max crashes in Ethiopia last month and off the coast of Indonesia in October.

Price, a North Carolina Democrat, said the Transportation Department “has to undertake a massive effort” to recruit and retain staff capable of overseeing new automated technologies.

“If the department lacks the expertise to safely regulate these emerging technologies, the results will be catastrophic not only for consumers and passengers but also for the businesses and industries that drive innovation,” Price said in remarks prepared for a subcommittee hearing Wednesday on the department’s budget request.

Technology companies and car and truck manufacturers are racing to develop and deploy self-driving vehicles while regulators evaluate how best to ensure safety without imposing needless technological hurdles.

The Transportation Department last year released updated automated vehicle guidance that for the first time applied to commercial trucks and other transportation modes, in addition to cars. Auto regulators are now taking public comment on a petition from General Motors Co. seeking permission from the agency to deploy a self-driving car without a steering wheel or foot pedals, which are normally required under auto-safety standards.