House passes bill paving the way for driverless cars

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The House passed a bipartisan driverless car bill on Wednesday, advancing what could become the first set of federal laws for the emerging industry.

The “Self Drive Act” was unanimously approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in July, before Congress left for August recess, and passed the full House on a voice vote.

“Self-driving cars hold the promise of making America’s roads safer, creating new economic opportunities, and helping seniors and those with disabilities live more independently,” Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) said in a joint statement. “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.”

The bill would pre-empt states from implementing certain laws governing the new technology. It would also allow car manufacturers to deploy up to 100,000 self-driving cars a year that don’t meet normal safety standards. In the first year, however, that number will be capped at 25,000.

States will still be responsible for vehicle registration, insurance, driver education, law enforcement and other local issues. Manufacturers will be required to include cybersecurity and privacy protections in their vehicles.

{mosads}And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will be in charge of regulating the industry’s traffic safety standards.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is expected to unveil guidelines for manufacturing autonomous vehicles.

Lawmakers and industry advocates say it is necessary to speed up the development of driverless technology in order to improve traffic safety. The bill comes amid an uptick in traffic deaths in the U.S.

“Self-driving cars have the potential in the future to reduce deaths and injuries from car crashes, particularly those that result from driver distraction,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the top Commerce Committee Democrat, said on the House floor ahead of the vote. “This bill allows for testing and deployment of self-driving cars to help the United States reach that potential sooner.”

According to one estimate, self-driving cars could reduce traffic fatalities by up to 90 percent.

The technology is still a long way from a mass rollout, but lawmakers believe that the bill could help expedite the industry’s development by clearing out a patchwork of differing state laws throughout the country.

The Senate is also expected to put out its own version of a self-driving car bill soon.

Next week, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing to examine self-driving trucks, an issue that wasn’t covered in the House legislation and is sure to run into opposition from labor groups. A committee aide told The Hill that draft legislation may be released before the hearing.

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