Senate Self-Driving Vehicle Bill Markup Possible by Oct. 4

By Shaun Courtney

The Senate could mark up a self-driving vehicle bill in committee Oct. 4, the target date set by the bill’s authors, co-author Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and a legislative staffer for committee member Edward Markey (D-Mass.) told Bloomberg BNA.

The House passed the SELF DRIVE Act (H.R. 3388) Sept. 6 governing self-driving cars. The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee would take up its own bipartisan bill to create a regulatory framework for the emerging technology of autonomous vehicles.

The Senate committee’s draft bill included optional language to address commercial vehicles in the legislation, a move favored by bill co-author Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), but opposed by Peters.

“It’s all a work in progress,” Peters told Bloomberg BNA.

The self-driving technology industry, including companies like Uber and Alphabet’s Waymo, is urging Congress to create a federal framework to prevent a patchwork of state regulations from making inter-state testing and operations cumbersome.

Trucks and Other Concerns

Addressing commercial vehicles as well as safety and security issues were all concerns raised by senators during a Sept. 13 committee hearing on autonomous commercial vehicles.

Since then, staffers have been working through what Peters called the “bracketed” areas of the draft bill that remained unsettled.

Thune wants the bill to cover passenger and commercial vehicles so manufacturers and technology companies have one standard to operate under.

“There is real concern about having separate standards, but I know for the Democrats, this issue is a little more difficult to try and grapple with,” Thune told Bloomberg BNA.

Peters said he would rather see trucks taken up in separate legislation.

Trucks aren’t the only issue—several senators during the hearing said they wanted strong, prescriptive safety and security provisions included in the bill.

“My goal is to ultimately ensure that no matter which vehicles are included that we just have privacy and security issues resolved right from the get go,” Senate Commerce Committee member Markey told Bloomberg BNA.

Both Thune and Peters said they were working to find a a solution both sides could agree to.

“I wouldn’t want to try to speculate where we’re going to be in a couple of weeks. But I can tell you we’ve had robust conversation since the hearing on all of those items, not just trucking, but other issues related to it as well,” Peters told Bloomberg BNA.

Reconciling with the House

The House bill did not include trucks in part because the committee of origin, House Energy and Commerce, does not have jurisdiction over commercial trucks.

Peters said the absence of trucks in the House bill is reason enough to leave it out of the Senate bill as well. His goal, he said, is to move quickly.

“I think it is important that we get a product out soon. We’re dealing with significant competition from foreign countries and their manufacturers and the United States needs to continue to be a leader,” Peters said.

There is an appetite from both the House Energy and Commerce and the Transportation and Infrastructure committees to see autonomous trucks addressed, though, Thune told Bloomberg BNA.

Thune told Bloomberg BNA a bill with trucks could move forward, “If we can come up with a solution to this—to kind of deal with it here—and then hopefully get the House on board.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bna.com

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

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