By on January 25, 2018

us-capitol, public domain

Bipartisan legislation to “promote the safe development of autonomous vehicles” is currently being held up by a trio of Democrats, according to U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune. While much of Congress is hoping to push the AV START Act through, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and two colleagues have blocked unanimous consent — stalling the bill’s swift progress by forcing a floor vote.

Thune, who sponsors Senate Bill 1,885, told reporters he hoped Feinstein and the other Democrats would see the light. “We could save a lot of lives,” Thune said, adding that 94 percent of car crashes are caused by human error. “It is cutting-edge technology, transformational in terms of the economy.”

However, the opposition isn’t convinced autonomous vehicles are at a point where it’s safe to roll them out en masse on public roads.

The AV START Act would permit automakers to each sell up to tens of thousands of self-driving vehicles annually by issuing safety reports that don’t need to adhere to any specific guidelines. Simply submitting the report would give automakers thousands of exemptions from existing safety rules without the need to follow any new ones.

The lax regulatory issues in the bill has been a cause for concern for senators like Feinstein and various safety groups, as the bill seems to focus singularly on serving the automotive industry and progressing autonomous technologies without a net. But nobody seems to have a handle on what kind of safety measures would need to be put in place to ensure self-driving vehicles are tested and deployed responsibly.

“We think that NHTSA working with people who are designing these vehicles and understand these technologies are better equipped than us in Congress trying to prescribe a particular technology,” Thune said. “They are in a better position to make those decisions in working with the regulators.”

While that’s likely true, the U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA have pursued policies that serve to accelerate innovation in the field more than anything else. Their new Automated Driving Systems guidance proved little more than that the current administration wants to be a friend to automakers. But, again, deciding how best to regulate self-driving vehicles is a topic no group has been able to manage. Instead, you have those who want unimpeded progress and those who are concerned it might be a poor strategy when safety is the ultimate goal.

“A lot of testing is going on in [Feinstein’s] state (California), so I’m hoping folks will eventually be able to prevail on her to realize that this is eventually going to make roads safer, not less so,” Thune told reporters after a field hearing on self-driving cars held in conjunction with the Washington Auto Show.

If the bill’s success comes down to a vote on the Senate floor, Thune said he believes it would win around 80 votes in the 100-member chamber. But he’s optimistic the minority of lawmakers standing in its way can be persuaded, leading to a similarly unanimous approval that took place in the House last September.

[Source: Reuters]

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15 Comments on “Senate Fumbles With Self-driving Legislation...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “…progressing autonomous technologies without a net”

    Lawsuits will/would be a painful way to create a net, after some lives and fortunes are lost.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    What a boondoggle this is going to be. “Safety reports that don’t adhere to any specific guidelines. Simply submitting the report would give automakers thousands of exemptions from existing safety rules without the need to follow any new ones”…….”It’s Festival! It’s Festival!”

  • avatar
    MoparRocker74

    Tip of the iceberg in terms of what a legal quagmire this will be. For once, I agree with the Democrats on this one…a suprising stance from the party of the Nanny State. As I see it, safety isn’t something that can be legislated into existence. Every individual person is responsible for his or her own safety, not a computer. From where I sit, autonomous tech is just an excuse for ignorant irresponsible idiots to be even more incompetent.

    Transportation for people too uninterested or distracted to do so effectively is a problem that’s already been solved like 3 times: Buses, light rails, taxis/rideshare. Pick one.

  • avatar
    Steve65

    This bill is the embodiment of the “deregulation” spree launched by Reagan. “Regulations written is blood? Who care? They cost money. Gotta go.”

  • avatar
    Syke

    “Senate Fumbles . . . ”

    So what else is new? If there were ever two words that went so well together, these have got to be them.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    The objections to the law seem pretty valid to me. “You don’t have to adhere to any safety rules at all, as long as you write something about safety.” That does not sound like a great idea to me. The fact that my estate could sue the manufacturer of a car that killed me does not fill me with warm feelings about this plan.

    That sounds like an English professor telling students they’ll receive an A in the class as long as they submit a paper that mentions a book, any book, and it can be as short or as long as they like, and doesn’t even have to be any good.

    • 0 avatar
      claytori

      That sounds a lot like my PSYCH 101 professor. You would get a B unless you asked for an A. No other actions required, other than participating in “research” as a guinea pig/lab rat.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    ““We could save a lot of lives,” Thune said, adding that 94 percent of car crashes are caused by human error”

    Senator Moron. when humans don’t drive, 100% of incidents will be technology failure.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      You may want to consider that percentages don’t stand alone–they’ve got to be applied to a whole. Two wholes in this case, with one potentially being much smaller than the other. So 100% may well be smaller than 94%.

      • 0 avatar
        Kendahl

        The problem is that, after an autonomous vehicle blows through a red light and T-bones a competent, conscientious driver, advocates of autonomous vehicles will make the excuse that they are safer than a conventional vehicle driven by a drunk with a 0.3 BAC. The minimum standard should be that they are safer than a competent, conscientious driver who makes an occasional mistake.

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        Autonomous vehicle basically is a software. If you would know how software is written you would never consider soft has even a chance to be safe.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Johnny Cab is going to be used against you if you don’t play nice about your own demise.

      Carrington Event where are you?

  • avatar
    Erikstrawn

    “…you have those who want unimpeded progress and those who are concerned it might be a poor strategy when safety is the ultimate goal.”

    Whoever said that safety is the ultimate goal? The manufacturers’ goal is to sell cars that make money, and the promise of self-driving will move metal. The Senate’s goal is to keep rich donors happy, which deregulation does. Insurance companies only care about safety if it keeps them from paying out. Attorneys are dreaming of an unregulated self-driving-auto market. Consumers don’t even pay attention to crash ratings. It’s the government’s responsibility to set a reasonable standard in the absence of common sense from everyone else. That’s why we have safety-minded bureaucrats at the NHTSA. The Senate should only get involved if the NHTSA releases a 1000 page regulation or does something else bureaucratically incompetent.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Manufacturers might want to be careful what they wish for. Will it matter what company produces your auto-pod? Will it matter if it’s fast or handles well? What about after-market products, which are huge money? Nobody is going to say “I think I’ll add a cold air intake and flowmaster exhaust to my auto-pod that I don’t actually drive, maybe I can squeeze a few more ponies out of it.”


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