By Chris Adams

Lawmakers in Washington and statehouses across the country are working to oversee fast-moving driverless car technology – and soon, they might hit a traffic jam.

That’s the assessment offered by two experts on self-driving – or “autonomous” – vehicles, given in a National Press Foundation video on the technology, the promise it holds and the government’s regulation of it.

Jack Gillis, director of public affairs at the Consumer Federation of America and the author of “The Car Book” (overview, Amazon), and Steve Gehring of the Association of Global Automakers discussed the technology being developed and federal and state roles overseeing it.

Gillis, for his part, is fairly critical: “I would give them a D,” he said of federal efforts to regulate the industry. Gillis said the federal government needs more resources to test and monitor autonomous technology, and needs additional enforcement powers to prevent potentially catastrophic defects from getting into cars.

Recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (part of the Department of Transportation) issued voluntary guidance on driverless technology and how it’s being developed. It’s a good first step, Gehring said.

At the same time, Congress is considering legislation on the topic that will allow carmakers and tech firms to more easily test and deploy autonomous vehicles. The SAFE DRIVE Act passed the House in September 2017.

In addition to federal action, dozens of states are considering – or have passed – their own laws covering autonomous vehicles. That could lead to a patchwork of laws, where what’s allowed in one state might be prohibited in another. That’s a big concern for automakers.

Beyond government action, Gehring and Gillis discussed the promise of autonomous vehicles – including a real chance to bring down auto deaths, which ticked up in recent years.

And they talked about the public’s acceptance of the vehicles, including some recent polls that indicated half of the country was willing to try the vehicles and half the country was skittish or dead-set against them.

Gehring said adoption would be gradual, with driverless features being incorporated into cars well before the cars are at full automation.