By September 6, 2017 Read More →

Self driving cars bill approved by US House moves to Senate

Self driving cars

The self driving cars bill now moves to the Senate where members are also considering the viability of autonomous commercial vehicles. Northeastern University graphic.

Self driving cars legislation concerns safety advocates

Members of the US Congress passed a wide-ranging bill that could help speed up the introduction of self driving cars and light trucks.  The move is being heralded by tech and auto companies who are in a race to develop and use their technology.

“With this legislation, innovation can flourish without the heavy hand of government,” said Ohio Republican and chair of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, Bob Latta ahead of the vote.

The bill is now in the hands of the Senate where Republican John Thune of South Dakota and Democrats Bill Nelson of Florida and Gary Peters of Michigan are working on legislation of their own.

The three serve on the Senate commerce committee, which announced on Wednesday a hearing on Sept.13 to examine autonomous commercial vehicles and how they fit into the Senate’s self driving automobile legislation.

The bill that passed in the House only applies to passenger cars and light trucks and will put the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in charge of regulating self driving cars.

The move would preempt competing rules at the state level.

Auto manufacturers would eventually be able to put up to 100,000 self driving cars on the roads per year that don’t comply with current safety rules that call for the presence of a human driver.

The bill also calls on the NHTSA to develop new standards for self driving cars and trucks where companies must draft security and privacy plans for autonomous vehicles and document their approach for ensuring the safety of self driving cars.

“If we’re going to stay at the forefront of innovation and technology in this country, we have to be driving the technology for autonomous vehicles,” Michigan Democratic Representative Debbie Dingell said prior to the vote. “I’m really proud of the fact that we got this out of the House. We kept our heads down.”

In July, the measure was cleared by the House Energy and Commerce committee unanimously and bipartisan support thrust the bill to the House floor.

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There were some concerns raised by Democrats and criticisms over the lack of input on the bill from the NHTSA.  The Trump administration has yet to appoint a top official to lead the agency.

Self driving car proponents say the vehicles could eliminate human error which is responsible for about 94 per cent of the more than 30,000 fatal collisions in the US every year.  In recent years, the number of deadly crashes has risen after years of decline.

According to Bloomberg, trade groups representing Waymo LLC, Ford, GM and Lyft were strongly in support of the bill.  Labor unions lobbied to exclude tractor-trailers, buses and other commercial vehicles from the House bill.

“Automakers have been developing these technologies for years and this legislation helps address a variety of barriers that otherwise block the ability to safely test and deploy these vehicle technologies,” the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a Washington-based trade group for GM, Ford, Volkswagen AG and several other automakers, said in a statement.

The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety are concerned that expanding the gap on safety exemptions to 100,000 vehicles per year could be dangerous.  As well, the group is concerned that the preemption of state authority is overly broad.  The Washington DC based organization is also looking for extra funding for the NHTSA.

Later in September, the Trump administration will release its updated deployment guidance, a non-binding policy first issued by the Obama administration last year which provided some basic safety guidelines for autonomous vehicles.  At the time, the agency responsible for the policy, the US Transportation Department, stopped short of issuing new regulations.




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