The Fuse

UPDATE: Senate Committee Approves Autonomous Vehicle Legislation

by The Fuse | October 05, 2017

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved the AV START Act, sending it to the full Senate for consideration. The bill is a strong counterpart to the House’s SELF DRIVE Act, which cleared the chamber in July. The AV START Act would preserve federal authority over AV design and performance; create flexibility for developers to deploy safe vehicles with innovative designs; preclude discrimination against Americans with disabilities; and establish multiple mechanisms for government, industry, and outside experts to collaborate closely on policy and technological development challenges. The bill’s advancement is a testament to the bipartisan collaboration between Chairman John Thune (R-SD) and Senator Gary Peters (D-MI).

The committee adopted an amendment by Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) instructing the Department of Transportation (DOT) to study and evaluate how autonomous vehicles will impact energy security, transportation infrastructure, mobility, and fuel consumption in both urban and rural areas.

“As this bill awaits a vote on the Senate floor, it is vital that strong preemptive protections are maintained, in addition to guards against barriers to access for Americans with disabilities, seniors, and injured veterans. Exemption provisions are similarly vital to ensuring that this technology can advance in a way that enables innovation and improves our transportation system as a whole,” Securing America’s Future Energy CEO Robbie Diamond said in a statement.

See here for how the Senate legislation compares with the House bill passed over the summer.

Below is the story published Tuesday ahead of the committee markup

Momentum to pass autonomous vehicle (AV) legislation is accelerating on Capitol Hill. Last week, the Senate released the text of its bill for the development of AVs, led by Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-South Dakota) and Senator Gary Peters (D-Michigan). The Committee plans to consider the legislation at committee markup on Wednesday. “We expect adoption of self-driving vehicle technologies will save lives, improve mobility for people with disabilities, and create new jobs,” Thune and Peters said in a statement.

This development comes on the heels of the House’s unanimously passage of AV legislation during the summer.

Besides increasing access to transportation for the blind, the elderly, and the disabled and creating jobs, AVs are expected to significantly reduce traffic accidents and boost fuel efficiency and fuel diversity.

There is a lot to applaud in the Senate bill, entitled the AV START Act.

“We expect adoption of self-driving vehicle technologies will save lives, improve mobility for people with disabilities, and create new jobs.”

Federal preemption is the bill’s key provision. Developers require regulatory certainty and a clear division of responsibility between the federal government and the states in order to reach their full potential. The Senate’s draft AV START Act, similar to the House’s legislation, would prevent a patchwork of state-by-state regulations that is currently taking shape. Eliminating or altering the intent of this provision would undermine the legislation and set back future testing and deployment of AVs. Preemption would maintain the existing framework for vehicle deployment by creating national performance standards and design regulations while leaving oversight of insurance, licensing, and other issues to the states.

The bill also includes language allowing manufacturers to receive “exemptions” to get AVs on the road safely and quickly. Exemptions are necessary to enable new vehicle designs and spur innovation, while generating enough data to inform a rulemaking. The bill would stagger the number of exemptions to gradually introduce them onto U.S. roads, affording 50,000 in the first-year and ultimately reaching 100,000 three years after passage.

The structure of the bill is such that it provides near-term certainty in developers’ ability to deploy autonomous vehicles.

The structure of the bill is such that it provides near-term certainty in developers’ ability to deploy; allows exemptions to get more vehicles on the roads to gather critical data; and ultimately to inform and initiate a full rulemaking.

Importantly, the bill would also level the playing field between established automakers and new entrants, allowing innovation to flourish wherever it appears.

In addition to their wide value to safety and improved mobility, AVs portend significant benefits in reducing U.S. oil dependence and accelerating greater fuel efficiency and fuel choice.