FutureStructure

Auto Industry Lobbyists in Boston Push Hard for Autonomous Vehicle Legislation Reform

General Motors, Nissan and Volkswagen are among the auto companies involved in the efforts.

by Jordan Graham, Boston Herald / January 26, 2017
Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

(TNS) -- Self-driving cars are now restricted to a small corner of Boston, but lobbyists are already arriving on Beacon Hill to try to shape any new legislation that will expand their presence on Bay State byways.

“Folks from all types of industries have reached out,” said state Sen. Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow), who filed a bill that would give the Department of Transportation authority to regulate self-driving cars. “The tech industry is reaching out, the environmental community is very active, certainly the car companies have started to get active.”

Both General Motors and Volkswagen said in lobbying registration documents they intend to lobby on autonomous vehicle legislation this year.

Harry Lightsey, executive director of emerging technologies policy for GM, said future decisions on where to test and deploy autonomous cars will take into account how accommodating or restrictive state laws are.

“You’ve got to have the right policy in place, you’ve got to have the ability to innovate and develop the technology and deploy the technology,” Lightsey said. “It’s got to give the folks that are developing the technology the room to innovate, the room to change, but at the same time it has to provide the public with the assurance that their safety is going to be protected.”

Because the technology is moving so fast, lawmakers should stay away from measures that could stifle research and development. Lightsey said GM supports Lesser’s bill.

“You cannot regulate it the way you regulate the traditional automobile industry,” he said.

VW did not respond to a request for comment.

Other big automakers, including Nissan and Toyota — the latter of which has built a multimillion-dollar research center in Cambridge focused in part on autonomous vehicles — have also registered lobbyists, but did not mention self-driving cars.

Regulating self-driving cars appears to be on the to-do list for lawmakers this session. Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg mentioned the need for regulation in an address earlier this year.

Another bill, filed by state Sen. Jason M. Lewis (D-Winchester) and state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield) calls for taxing self-driving cars by the mile, restricting how far they can drive without a passenger, and mandating that they be emission free. That bill was sharply criticized by local start-up nuTonomy, which is running tests on public roads in Boston.

“Everyone who’s developing technology in this space wants to ensure technology development is not hampered,” said Karl Iagnemma, chief executive of nuTonomy.

©2017 the Boston Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.