Self-Driving Bill Likely to Face Contention in Senate Committee Vote

A similar bill unanimously passed the U.S. House last month, but some on the Senate panel have already said that it gives carmakers too much freedom.

by Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press / October 4, 2017

(TNS) -- WASHINGTON – A U.S. Senate committee will take up legislation at 10 a.m. today as it moves toward putting into place regulations for the testing and development of autonomous or self-driving vehicles.

While similar legislation sailed through the U.S. House on a unanimous vote last month, there could be more contention today in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Some members complain the proposal doesn’t do enough to protect potential occupants and gives automakers too much leeway.

Supporters, on the other hand, maintain that any move toward self-driving vehicles is a positive development safety-wise, with more than 30,000 traffic fatalities a year and the majority attributed to driver error.

Here’s a quick rundown on the bill:

-- Like the House bill, this one would let the U.S. Department of Transportation exempt manufacturers from existing safety standards to eventually sell up to 100,000 a year to help develop new self-driving technology. The legislation says the new technology has to be as safe as existing technology but some critics, including some members of the committee, argue it could put the public at risk.

-- The Teamsters union asked that this legislation not include regulations paving the way for self-driving trucks, and it doesn’t, at least going into today’s committee markup, despite some arguments that autonomous commercial vehicles should be developed alongside self-driving cars. It’s been widely noted that self-driving trucks could someday potentially put millions of drivers out of business.

-- Just like the House bill, the Senate version will keep the federal government in the driver’s seat when it comes to setting rules for the design, construction and safety standards autonomous vehicles and their components must meet. That, say automakers, will preclude a confusing patchwork of standards being set in states across the country. Consumer advocates say states should be allowed to set tougher rules.

There is much more in the legislation as well, includes sections on cybersecurity, required safety evaluations for automakers and more but the legislation doesn’t spell out specifics for what standards carmakers will have to meet – with that being left up to the Transportation Department.

Most automakers who are developing autonomous vehicles expect to have mostly self-driving cars on at least some roads and streets that can handle them in the next three to four years.

©2017 the Detroit Free Press Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.