AASHTO Journal

Lawmakers, Experts Explore How to Test, Regulate, Deploy Driverless Vehicles

​A House Energy and Commerce panel held a lengthy hearing June 27 that could help shape legislation on fast-developing technologies that could revolutionize roadway transportation – the emergence of highly automated and even driverless vehicles.

With a panel of experts and 14 pieces of proposed legislation in front of it, the Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection heard testimony and weighed in for about two and a half hours to explore a wide range of related issues.

Those included disagreements over how to spur or limit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop national regulations for driverless cars and trucks, whether manufacturers of the vehicles or automation technology should be able to shield proprietary information from regulators and whether the industry should be able to deploy perhaps large fleets of automated vehicles on roads during the testing phase before the agency has issued regulations governing their use.

capitol0816.jpgSome speakers complained that various states are enacting legislation on automated vehicles that could produce a "patchwork" of separate rules taking effect at state borders, so that users of the vehicles in one may not be able to take them into the next state. They called for national legislation that would override states and prevent them from setting differing rules.

The witnesses were Mitch Bainwol, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers; John Bozzella, president, Global Automakers; Tim Day, senior vice president, Chamber Technology Engagement Center, U.S. Chamber of Commerce; David Strickland, counsel, Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets; Alan Morrison, Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest and Public Service Law, The George Washington University Law School; and Will Wallace, policy analyst, Consumers Union.

A video of the complete discussion, the official testimony by witnesses and links to proposed legislation are available here.

Here is a committee pre-hearing memo summarizing many of the issues around the subject.

A recurring issue raised during the hearing included the need to maintain security in a future when many cars and trucks are automated but talking with each other and with roadway infrastructure, to prevent potentially disastrous cyber attacks.

In fact, lawmakers and industry experts were discussing self-driving vehicles the same day a major cyber attack disrupted terminal operations around the world for leading cargo container handler A.P. Moller-Maersk, illustrating the potential impact on transportation systems of software hacking threats. (See related story.)

Some of the majority Republican subcommittee members reiterated that the legislative drafts were "discussion" documents, and members from both parties said any legislation must be bipartisan and carefully worked out in order to provide the greatest possible assurance to the public about the safety and security of driverless cars.

But members also repeatedly said such technology has the capacity to sharply reduce traffic deaths and injuries, to increase mobility for aging or handicapped people and to improve the quality of the national fleet as automated vehicles keep their own service appointments when owners do not need them.

Speakers also said the spread of such vehicles has the potential to fundamentally alter transportation trends, to increasingly make vehicle use a service to order up rather than something to personally own and operate.

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

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