AASHTO Journal

Senate Committee Advances Automated Vehicle Bill With State Protections

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee quickly approved a bill Oct. 4 to clear the way for testing and deployment of automated, light-duty vehicles, after first amending it to deal with states' concerns about letting federal agencies preempt traditional state powers to regulate vehicle sales and operation on roadways.

If it becomes law, that could speed development and the eventual on-road appearance of cars and light trucks that drive themselves in many situations. The House has passed a different version, so if the full Senate approves the committee bill then conferees from the two chambers would need to negotiate to settle differences in a final version.

dollarpump.jpgThe committee in a press release emphasized that its "passage of the legislation included new bipartisan Senate language to establish a balance between federal and state laws affecting self-driving vehicles," which came in an amendment offered by ranking Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida.

While the amended bill made clear that states cannot interfere with federal agencies' power to regulate vehicle design, safety and performance standards, it also said that could not be construed "to prohibit a state or political subdivision of a state from maintaining, enforcing, prescribing or continuing in effect" laws and regulations on sale, distribution and service of highly automated vehicles or their components.

The amendment also made clear that state liability laws would apply, for damages related to operating such vehicles.

The measure did not include provisions for heavy-duty commercial trucks as the trucking industry had sought. Some trucks using highly automated technologies are already operating on highway segments to test close "platoon" operations to improve efficiency.

Commerce Chairman John Thune, R-S.D, and member Gary Peters, D-Mich., sponsored what they call the "AV START Act," which stands for "American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies."

Its passage on a committee voice vote "underscores the bipartisan desire to move ahead with self-driving vehicle technology," said Thune. "Sen. Peters and the members of the Commerce Committee deserve credit for working together to move this bill forward toward Senate floor consideration and collaboration with our colleagues in the House of Representatives. The safety and economic benefits of self-driving vehicles are too critical to delay."

Peters said that "self-driving vehicles will make transformative changes to improve mobility, reduce accidents and enhance safety for millions of travelers on our roads." He said the legislation "will help advance these life-saving and life-changing self-driving technologies and ensure that the United States remains at the forefront of vehicle innovation."

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

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