The Fuse

Senate and House Pull Closer to Autonomous Vehicle Legislation

by Leslie Hayward | June 13, 2017

Tomorrow, the Senate will hold a hearing on autonomous vehicle (AV) policy as legislative efforts advance in both chambers of Congress. So far, the majority of hearings have been informational briefings—but given last week’s comments from Senate Commerce Committee Chair John Thune and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Greg Walden that progress is being made, stakeholders are hoping that Wednesday’s event will shed light on more specific legislative proposals. The subject of the hearing is the role of states versus the federal government in maintaining safety standards.

Although the risk of overregulation is real, the lack of guidelines for industry is now creating sufficient uncertainty that tech and automotive companies are holding back their development efforts.

The name of the game is federal preemption—or whether Congress will grant authority to the Department of Transportation (DOT) to grant specific exemptions for the on-road testing of highly automated vehicles. The absence of federal policy on AVs is now at the point where it’s beginning to be problematic: The state-by-state regulatory patchwork that SAFE and other stakeholders have cautioned against has materialized. Although the risk of overregulation is real, the lack of a goalpost or guidelines for industry is now creating sufficient uncertainty that tech and automotive companies are holding back their development efforts.

Of critical note is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s ability to grant companies permission to test up to 2,500 vehicles on public roads without needing to follow current safety standards.

Of critical note is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s ability to grant companies permission to test up to 2,500 vehicles on public roads without needing to follow current safety standards, which may require a human operator in the car and makes it nearly impossible for developers to effectively create and build innovative AV designs. Industry has requested a higher cap, and reports indicate that lawmakers are considering an exemption of up to 100,000 cars.

Both the House and Senate should be applauded for advancing AV regulations and encouraged to incorporate forward-looking language on federal preemption that will address both testing and deployment efforts for the coming years. According to reports, the House is expected to file a bill in the coming weeks, and the Senate hopes to follow suit. DOT is also expected to revisit the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy in the coming months.

In the IEEE’s view, the alignment between autonomy and electrification is more substance than style.

Underscoring the need for national policy that allows safe and expeditious deployment, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has weighed in on the natural synergies between autonomous and electric vehicles. In IEEE’s view, the alignment between the two technologies is more substance than style. There’s evidence in corporate strategies, such as BMW’s announced development of its iNext autonomous electric vehicle and General Motors’ deployment of autonomous drive through the electric Chevy Bolt. But the biggest factor is the high probability that AVs will be deployed through mobility as a service, thanks to lower maintenance and operating costs, and the potential for autonomous electric vehicles to charge themselves through inductive charging. As electric vehicles come closer to cost parity with internal combustion cars and autonomous vehicle technology races forward, now is not the time for Washington to let a regulatory void hold back the future of safe, affordable, and efficient transportation.

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