Self-Driving Car Bills Likely to Be Introduced Before August

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By Shaun Courtney and Michaela Ross

Legislation on self-driving cars could be formally introduced in both the House and Senate before the August recess.

“Ideally we’d like to have it done before we leave,” Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) told reporters June14 after a hearing on the subject at the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. “I’m not going to give any firm time frame because we’re still working on it.”

Legislative principles released by Peters, along with Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and ranking member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), are aimed at guiding their efforts to write bipartisan legislation on self-driving vehicles.

House Republicans, meanwhile, are expected to unveil autonomous vehicle legislation by the end of the month and hold a committee markup, according to several sources. The House Energy and Commerce Committee circulated a proposal this spring that included 16 draft bills addressing autonomous vehicle issues—including provisions on cybersecurity, preemption of conflicting state laws, and expansion of federal vehicle safety standard exemptions to allow for new autonomous vehicle designs.

Uniformity, Flexibility

Industry leaders testified at the Senate Commerce hearing that legislation should create uniform federal standards rather than leave companies to navigate the jumble of state-level regulation that can hinder testing across state lines.

“With conventional vehicles, the states regulate the driver, the feds regulate the vehicle. When the car becomes the driver, regulatory chaos ensues. A patchwork of different requirements across states is a recipe for delayed deployment and delayed utilization,” Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers President Mitch Bainwol testified.

Further, industry representatives said any regulations should be sufficiently flexible to adapt to a rapidly evolving industry.

"[Artificial Intelligence] is the fourth industrial revolution and what that means is that everything will change,” said Rob Csongor, vice president of NVIDIA, which supplies systems for self-driving vehicles across a range of automakers.

Csongor said he supports the development of a regulatory framework that is “logical” and simplifies the ability to test across state lines.

Several industry representatives called for greater allowances in the number of vehicles given exemptions by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from certain motor vehicle standards to allow self-driving cars on public roads.

They said the industry needs more data to teach the computers driving the cars how to operate and adapt to a variety of real-world scenarios. Deploying vehicles on the road rather than just testing them in confined areas or running simulations will help collect data vital to safety, they told the committee.

“We need a significant amount of in-use data to validate the technology and to give the vehicles a chance to experience a given scenario and learn from it,” said John Maddox, president of the self-driving vehicle testing and development facility American Center for Mobility. “The number of vehicles to gather than data will need to be substantial.”

Sticking Points

Though the principles for proposed legislation were offered by both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate panel, several committee members on both sides of the aisle raised concerns about the industry’s requests for regulations.

Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) said he worried federal regulations could hinder new startups and future entrants to the market if they are crafted in a way that benefits existing business models.

“I am concerned about Congress or federal agencies or some incumbents putting thumb on scale to the disadvantage of others,” Young told the witness panel of industry leaders.

Thune also made a point in his opening remarks that legislation should not favor one industry or model over another.

Self-driving car advocates have pressed the committee to retain voluntary standards for safety. NHTSA developed voluntary guidelines for autonomous vehicles last fall and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao recently said her the agency is reviewing the guidelines and plans to update them in the coming months.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce’s Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee, said any legislation should reflect NHTSA’s views—along with those of members on both side of the aisle.

“We need to get NHTSA’s input and work on a bipartisan basis to develop responsible AV legislation,” Schakowsky told Bloomberg BNA in a statement. “Safety should be our top priority.”

Cybersecurity Concerns

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), however, said he thinks vehicles should face strict, mandatory requirements, particularly when it comes to cybersecurity, before they can be widely deployed.

Maddox, the witness from the American Center for Mobility, said the technology and threats change so rapidly that voluntary standards are better because they can be changed more quickly.

Markey disagreed, saying “computers on wheels” should be mandated to constantly update and patch against vulnerabilities.

Peters told reporters he expected to address many of the topics raised during the hearing in what he said would be “comprehensive” legislation. Congress leaves town for the August recess at the end of July.

To contact the reporters on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bna.com; Michaela Ross in Washington at mailto:mross@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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