Congress Is (Finally) Ready to Talk Driver-less Cars

In late September, the U.S. House of Representatives took a first step towards legislating self-driving vehicles. The House passed H.R. 3388, the Safely Ensuring Lives, Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution (SELF DRIVE ) Act, which lays out a basic federal framework for regulating autonomous vehicle. Many experts say this legislation is a signal that federal lawmakers are finally ready to think seriously about self-driving cars and what they mean for the future of the country.

Specifically, SELF DRIVE would prohibit states and localities from regulating the design, construction or performance of highly automated vehicles in an effort to maintain nationwide standards. It also increases the number of exemptions from the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may grant in a given year to allow manufacturers and developers to continue testing and improving autonomous vehicles.
Additionally, the legislation requires self-driving or “autonomous” vehicle manufacturers be deliberate about the way they share their passengers’ information such as where they live, work, and spend their free time. Companies must have “privacy plans” describing how they will use passenger information and give consumers a way to opt out if they do not want their data shared.

Bill sponsor and Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce’s Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee Congressman Bob Latta (OH) said of the emerging technology, “U.S. companies are investing major resources in the research and development of this technology and should not be held up by regulatory barriers that were created when self-driving vehicles were just science fiction. We must act and we must act now. …This legislation is the first of its kind, focused on the car of the future that is more of a supercomputer on wheels.”
The Tech Industry, who is leading the charge on designing and manufacturing America’s first fleet of self-driving vehicles, welcomes the legislative clarification. Industry leaders and policy makers hope the bill strikes a good balance between allowing car companies the flexibility to experiment with technology and stay competitive while determining the best way to operate vehicles without a driver.

On October 4, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved S. 1885 companion legislation to the House bill. The bill’s sponsor Sen. John Thune said he thought the bill would require floor time rather than passing the chamber under a unanimous consent agreement. He said it could be considered on its own or as part of an end-of-year must-pass package.

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