Trial lawyers, unions seen hobbling U.S. in race to beat China on driverless cars

While progress stalls in Congress, China is moving forward aggressively, Raj Rajkumar, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said in an interview.

“They were initially stumbling and bumbling around and not making progress. But they’ve been improving and improving. Now there’s a lot of players in the Chinese market and a lot of money,” he said.

Hanging in limbo is a bipartisan bill that would create safety regulations for driverless vehicles and allow more testing. It also would improve financial incentives for U.S. manufacturers to invest in the development of automated vehicles by increasing the number they could sell.

Each manufacturer now can sell only 2,500 driverless vehicles to companies such as the ride-hailing service Lyft.

The limited fleet size does not give companies much of a return on investment in research and development to keep up with China, Mr. Rajkumar said.