September 6, 2017

Congress Hits the Gas on Autonomous Vehicles



This afternoon, the House of Representatives passed the SELF DRIVE Act, which essentially gives the green light on real world roadway testing for autonomous vehicles. Although notable as the first significant piece of Congressional legislation addressing self-driving cars, the bill is also an excellent example of how even in a hyper-polarized political climate, there’s clear bipartisan support for technology and innovation. As Bloomberg reports:

“With this legislation, innovation can flourish without the heavy hand of government,” Ohio Republican Bob Latta said on the House floor ahead of the voice vote in the chamber Wednesday. Latta is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that developed the legislation.

The action now moves to the Senate, where Republican John Thune of South Dakota and Democrats Bill Nelson of Florida and Gary Peters of Michigan are leading work on legislation of their own. The trio serve on the Senate commerce committee, which on Wednesday announced a Sept. 13 hearing to examine autonomous commercial vehicles and how they may fit into the Senate’s self-driving vehicle legislation. The House bill only applies to passenger cars and light trucks.

The House bill would put the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in charge of regulating self-driving car safety and preempt competing rules at the state level. Manufacturers would eventually be able to introduce as many as 100,000 self-driving cars per year that don’t comply with current safety rules that assume the presence of a human driver. It also instructs NHTSA to develop new standards for self-driving cars. Companies must draft security and privacy plans for autonomous vehicles and document their approach for ensuring self-driving car safety.

“If we’re going to stay at the forefront of innovation and technology in this country, we have to be driving the technology for autonomous vehicles,” Michigan Democratic Representative Debbie Dingell said before the vote. “I’m really proud of the fact that we got this out of the House. We kept our heads down.”

While the Senate still has to carry the day in getting the legislation to the President’s desk, the passage of this bill is a positive sign of things to come. As I noted yesterday, “this bill creates certainty for an emerging technological market without sacrificing public safety concerns.” That’s an important first step in ushering in a safer, more autonomous future. Congress, and in particular the House Energy and Commerce Committee, should be applauded for its efforts in crafting a bipartisan, compromise-oriented piece of legislation on this important issue. The future of autonomous vehicles is looking bright; and given the annual fatalities on American roadways, that future can’t come soon enough.