Congress is working on national self-driving vehicle legislation that could replace state-by-state rules and make it easier for automakers to test and deploy the technology. Senior U.S. House and Senate lawmakers discussed this development last month with Reuters.
Rep. Greg Walden, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he planned to unveil a package of legislation to overhaul federal rules governing self-driving vehicles. “We are getting very close. I think it’s a good package. We have put a lot of work into it,” Rep. Walden said in an interview, adding that there was “good bipartisan agreement” and he hoped to unveil and take up the package relatively soon.
Senator John Thune, a Republican who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, is also working on a legislative self-driving proposal with Senator Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat. “We are not there yet but we are getting closer,” Senator Thune said. The two Senators spoke jointly to Reuters on June 7 after getting a ride in a self-driving Audi, a unit of Volkswagen AG.
A number of companies, including Alphabet Inc. and Ford Motor Co., are pursuing automated technologies and want unified federal regulations to replace outdated rules. They want to make it simpler to develop and eventually sell the technology across the country. This spring, Republican staff drafted a summary of 16 potential legislative proposals on federal reforms and regulations that they circulated to automakers. This draft was seen by Reuters and the summary includes:
One proposal under consideration would to allow the U.S. Transportation Department to exempt up to 100,000 autonomous vehicles from current safety standards, which were written on the assumption responsibility for a car’s operation rested with the human driver. The existing motor vehicle safety standards bar the sale of vehicles without steering wheels and gas pedals, for example. Alphabet Inc’s Waymo unit has called for those rules to be changed.
Another proposal would prohibit a state from restricting testing by a manufacturer of up to 250 vehicles and comes as automakers have sparred with California over revisions to its self-driving car testing rules.
Senator Thune has said he wanted to avoid a “patchwork” of regulations from 50 different states on self-driving cars and look at cybersecurity and other issues. Senator Walden said:
The key thing is to make sure we stay in the lead on the innovation that there aren’t unnecessary roadblocks in the way, balancing that with safety.
The U.S. Transportation Department has said it would unveil revised self-driving guidelines within the next few months, responding to automakers’ calls for regulations to sanction costly efforts to put autonomous vehicles on the road. The voluntary guidelines would provide direction to states on self-driving cars as Congress works to set more permanent rules to oversee autonomous vehicles. But legislation might not be approved this year. States and automakers are seeking guidance from regulators in the interim.
Vehicle crashes annually kill more than 35,000 people on U.S. roads and injure 2.4 million. Sen. Walden said the goal was to get self-driving cars on the roads in big numbers so in a generation people would say: “‘What a bunch of barbarians – they drove themselves? Are you kidding me? And look at how many died every year and they thought that was acceptable?’”
It will be interesting to see how the proposed legislation fares. Obviously, lots of folks will be following the bills closely. I am not quite ready to accept this technology as being ready for the U.S. market. Hopefully, the automakers are not “outkicking their coverage,” to borrow some terminology from my football days.
Sources: Insurance Journal and Reuters
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