AASHTO Journal

House Passes Landmark Automated Vehicle Legislation; State Groups Raise Concerns

The House, in a Sept. 6 voice vote, approved "first-of-its-kind legislation to ensure the safe and innovative development, testing and deployment of self-driving cars," said the Energy and Commerce Committee that generated the bill.

However, five groups representing states and state agencies, including the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said the House bill appears to try to expand federal preemption of state powers over safe vehicle operation, and that a final congressional bill should explicitly require state representation on a federal advisory council the legislation would create for self-driving cars.

capitol0816.jpgThe Senate has yet to take up its own version of such legislation, and a House-Senate negotiating conference would be expected to negotiate any differences and report a final version for both chambers to pass.

A committee description of the "Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act,'' which backers call the SELF DRIVE Act, is available here

The House committee said the measure would improve the ability of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to adapt federal safety standards to the emerging technology of highly automated vehicles, and clarifies federal and state roles with respect to self-driving cars.

"This bipartisan bill paves the way for advanced collision avoidance systems and self-driving cars nationwide, and ensures that America stays a global leader in innovation," said Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ohio, and Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee Chairman Bob Latta, also R-Ohio.

However, a Sept. 5 letter to House and committee leaders from AASHTO, the National Governors Association, Governors Highway Safety Association, National Conference of State Legislatures and American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators said the bill poses concerns of federal overreach.

The groups told lawmakers that the House bill "seeks to significantly expand federal pre-emption of states by moving beyond the traditional definition of motor vehicle safety to encroach on vehicle operations, currently under the states' purview."

They noted that the same measure in one section also appears to undo that preemption, leaving the issue up for debate.

On the eve of floor consideration the groups asked the House "to make clear and reaffirm the traditional federal and state roles when it comes to vehicle safety standards and safety of vehicle operations."

However, it passed as drafted, so the groups will work with senators to try to specify the protections of state authority that they seek.

They also noted that the bill would include state representatives to its proposed Highly Autonomous Vehicle Advisory Council only as part of "state and local authorities" to be included.

But "given the fundamental roles state agencies play with regard to transportation safety, we request explicit state governmental representation," they wrote.

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

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