Senate Self-Driving Car Proposal Would Up New Vehicle Design Allowance

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By Michaela Ross

A draft Senate bill on autonomous vehicles would expand a federal program allowing for designs that don’t meet current vehicle standards, according to three industry sources familiar with the text.

The program expansion may speed up the roll-out of new self-driving vehicles by companies such as Tesla Inc. and Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo. Autonomous vehicle industry stakeholders have been clamoring for legislation that could get self-driving cars and light trucks on U.S. roads more quickly by expanding the ability of companies to deploy new designs and clarifying the roles of state and federal authorities.

The draft measure, expected to be introduced by Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), touches on several of the same concepts outlined in the series of 14 draft bills unveiled by the House Energy and Commerce Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee in June. Senate aides have been circulating the draft among industry stakeholders and consumer groups the week of July 10.The Senate draft would expand the Department of Transportation’s safety standard exemption program to allow companies to scale up operations of new autonomous vehicle designs, according to the industry sources who spoke to Bloomberg BNA on background. Under the draft, autonomous vehicle companies could apply to operate up to 100,000 autonomous vehicles in a 12-month period, up from the current cap of 2,500 vehicles, the sources said.The Senate draft also includes provisions that would clarify federal and state regulators’ involvement in autonomous vehicles safety standards. A wave of recent state and municipal laws and regulations have met resistance from the autonomous vehicle industry, which argues a regulatory patchwork will make it difficult to deploy their technology nationwide. The draft also includes cybersecurity provisions, the sources said. The legislation directs the Transportation Department to craft policies for cyber vulnerability disclosures by autonomous vehicle companies.

A Senate Commerce spokesman declined to comment on the draft bill. Lawmakers crafting autonomous vehicle bills in both chambers have said they aim to introduce legislation before August.

Rulemaking Timeline

The draft bill also contains a time-frame for potential rule-making for autonomous vehicles.

Under the draft, a 15-person safety committee would be created to make recommendations on performance standards to the DOT for potential rulemaking. Recommendations would be due within five years of the bill’s enactment. The Transportation Secretary would then have up to a year to implement these recommendations as guidelines or begin a rule-making process.

House Action on Autonomous Vehicles

House Energy and Commerce Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee Chairman Bob Latta (R-Ohio) said in June he aimed to hold markups of his subcommittee’s bills in July so they would be ready when Congress returns from its August recess. On July 12, the subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), and Energy and Commerce’s ranking member, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), announced provisions they want added to the House legislation. The Democratic provisions include a plan requiring safety assessment letters to be submitted to the Transportation Department by autonomous vehicle companies; cybersecurity requirements for the companies; and an update of federal motor vehicle safety standards through rule-making within 18 months of the bill’s enactment.

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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