House Subcommittee to Take Up Self-Driving Car Bill

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By Michaela Ross

The House Energy and Commerce Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee plans to consider autonomous vehicle legislation July 19.

The subcommittee wants to accelerate the safe deployment of autonomous vehicle technology being developed by companies such as Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo and Tesla Inc., Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), the subcommittee chairman who will introduce the legislation, has said.

A legislative draft released July 17 includes several provisions from a package of 14 draft bills unveiled by the subcommittee in June, and proposals put forth by Democratic lawmakers. Negotiations between Republicans and Democrats over some provisions were ongoing July 18, according to Democratic aides.

“I look forward to continuing to work with our Democrat colleagues as we advance these meaningful bills through the legislative process,” Latta said a statement issued by the full committee.

The most recent draft includes provisions to clarify conflicting local and state rules regarding autonomous vehicles, require companies to submit safety assessment and cybersecurity plans, and direct the Department of Transportation to write rules on safety standards for the new driving technology.

The full Energy and Commerce Committee plans to mark up the bill before the August recess, a committee spokesperson told Bloomberg BNA.

Bipartisan Effort

The July 17 draft reflects a more bipartisan approach than the earlier 14-bill package.

Among the provisions being finalized July 18 were those outlining federal and state regulatory roles, according to one Democratic aide. Traditionally, federal officials have held jurisdiction over vehicle design, while states have set rules for driver’s licensing, insurance and registration. Driverless vehicles have blurred those lines and spurred a slew of new state laws.

“It’s critical for the industry to be able to test and deploy across the country without a patchwork of rules that make it impossible to scale,” Jamie Boone, director of government affairs at the Consumer Technology Association, told Bloomberg BNA.

The July 17 draft bill contains language prohibiting states or localities from regulating the “design, construction, mechanical systems, hardware and software systems, or communications systems” of autonomous vehicles. As autonomous vehicle technology will eventually be completely controlled by software systems, Democratic lawmakers are negotiating to ensure states will maintain their rights in this area, according to a Democratic aide.

Another industry priority regarding the number of new vehicle designs allowed on public roads is also being debated, according to the aide. The draft includes language allowing Transportation to increase the number of autonomous vehicles that do not meet current federal safety standards from 2,500 to 100,000 on public roads.

Industry stakeholders have said raising the cap will allow autonomous vehicle companies to scale operations and gather more data that will make the technology safer.

“Providing exemptions for 100,000 vehicles a year per manufacturer from federal motor vehicle safety standards that would otherwise prevent the sale of fully autonomous vehicles without human controls is a necessary step in the deployment of this life-saving technology,” Elliot Katz, one of the leaders of DLA Piper’s connected and self-driving car practice, told Bloomberg BNA.

Cyber and Safety Mandates

Democrats succeeded in incorporating language into the July 17 draft that would require companies to submit safety assessments to the Department of Transportation and develop cybersecurity plans. Other provisions direct the department to begin rulemaking for the emerging technology.

The July 17 draft would open up autonomous vehicle testing on public roads to tech companies. Under current law, only traditional vehicle manufacturers can test autonomous vehicles that don’t comply with federal motor vehicle safety standards.

Senate lawmakers are expected to introduce their own legislation by August. Drafts of the Senate proposal also include provisions on cybersecurity policies and safety evaluation reporting standards, three industry sources familiar with the text told Bloomberg BNA.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michaela Ross in Washington at mross@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

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