House committee urges Senate to advance self-driving vehicle legislation

  Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

One year after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bipartisan SELF DRIVE Act, House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders called on the Senate to advance automated vehicle legislation.

“After a year of delays, forcing automakers and innovators to develop in a state-by-state patchwork of rules, the Senate must act to support this critical safety innovation and secure America’s place as a global leader in technology,” a media release from the House committee states.

The House passed the SELF DRIVE Act by voice vote Sept. 6, 2017. Companion legislation remains tied up in the Senate.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) emphasized the importance of passing timely legislation in order for the United States to remain a leader in self-driving innovation and avoid falling behind international competitors.

“We put American innovation first. We want these vehicles and this technology to be developed here, not somewhere else,” Walden said.

Beating the competition was not the republican leaders’ only motivation behind calling for swift legislation, though. Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-MS) spoke about self-driving cars in light of their potential to make transportation more accessible to his own son, who lives with special needs.

“Think of what this means to the disability community, to be able to go out and go where you want to go,” Harper said. “We’re talking about the number one impediment to employment for those with disabilities: transportation. This is a step we need to take.”

According to a media release from the Energy and Commerce Committee, the SELF DRIVE Act, as passed by the House, would accomplish the following:

  • Require the submission of safety assessment certifications by manufacturers of self-driving cars which provides greater transparency for disclosures for the public.
  • Improve the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) access to safety data for future updates and developments of safety standards.
  • Strengthen NHTSA’s ability to update 1970s era regulations which do not contemplate the features and functions of a self-driving car.
  • Maintains NHTSA’s broad recall authority to remove unsafe cars from our roadways, as well as impose civil and criminal penalties it deems appropriate.
  • Clarifies the state and federal roles with respect to self-driving cars.
  • States will continue to perform their traditional role in regulating vehicle registration, licensing, driving education and training, insurance, law enforcement, crash investigations, safety and emissions inspections, congestion management, and traffic laws.
  • NHTSA will continue to be the sole agency responsible for safety by regulating the design, construction, and performance of self-driving cars to avoid requirements that would prohibit or limit interstate commerce and travel.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Bob Latta (R-OH) urged the Senate to take action on self-driving legislation before the end of this legislative year.

“Time is running out. We’re getting towards the end of this legislative year and the calendar is getting short,” Latta said. “Our message to the Senators with concerns is this legislation is not, what you might say, an ‘end all, be all,’ but it’s really where we have to get started because it’s a first step.”

The Senate’s similar AV START Act gained approval from the Commerce Committee last fall, but it has not yet passed the full Senate.