A bipartisan group of senators outlined a broad sketch of their highly anticipated driverless car legislation on Tuesday as Congress looks to speed up the deployment of autonomous vehicles.
The package from Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell backs Herschel Walker in Georgia Senate race Thune endorses Herschel Walker in Georgia Senate race Democratic frustration with Sinema rises MORE (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDemocrats face growing hurdles in bid to oust DeSantis NASA adviser quits after request to change name of James Webb telescope denied NASA won't rename James Webb Space Telescope despite controversy MORE (D-Fla.), the panel’s ranking member; and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) could “become the first ever changes in federal law” governing self-driving cars, Thune said in a statement.
Their bill will aim to prioritize safety, reduce roadblocks, remain tech neutral, strengthen cybersecurity, reinforce separate federal and state roles and better educate the public about the emerging technology, according to lawmakers.
“Self-driving vehicle technology will have a transformational impact on highway safety,” Thune said. “These principles underscore our commitment to prioritizing safety, fixing outdated rules, and clarifying the role of federal and state governments.”
There is no timeline yet for when the measure will be finalized, though the Commerce panel is slated to hold a hearing on Wednesday to gather more input from stakeholders about some of the challenges facing the industry.
“While these principles are just a start, it’s my hope we’ll find bipartisan consensus on legislation that prioritizes safety and advances the technology,” Nelson said.
While Congress has held multiple hearings on the emerging technology, there are no significant federal laws yet governing the development and operation of self-driving vehicles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released voluntary guidelines last fall that created a 15-point safety assessment for automakers with the hope of eventually taking the checklist through the formal rulemaking process.
But the Trump administration has indicated that it is currently rewriting the guidance, which is expected to be unveiled in the coming weeks.
Across the Capitol, House lawmakers on the Energy and Commerce Committee are also working on a package of bills related to autonomous vehicles, which may address a number of industry and consumer concerns.
Driverless car developers have pleaded with lawmakers to ease current industry safety regulations that are meant for traditional automobiles, which they say may hinder testing and innovation on self-driving cars.
Under current standards, for example, cars are required to have a steering wheel and floor pedals. Autonomous vehicle makers need to apply for an exemption, but federal officials can only grant 2,500 per year, which could become a problem as more companies seek to develop the technology.
The Senate measure will “find ways to preserve and improve safety while addressing incompatibility with old rules that were not written with self-driving vehicles in mind,” according to the set of principles outlined by Thune, Nelson and Peters.
The bill may also address the messy patchwork of state laws and regulations on driverless cars, another chief concern for the industry.
The legislation will “prevent conflicting laws and rules from stifling this new technology” and “make necessary targeted updates for new challenges posed by the current regulatory environment with respect to self-driving vehicles,” according to the principles.
On the consumer side, the package will seek ways to encourage more widespread adoption of driverless cars, such as by reviewing public education models and addressing potential cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
"I’m pleased we have compiled this bipartisan framework, which is an important step toward introducing and enacting meaningful legislation that will help the federal government promote the safe development and adoption of self-driving vehicles and ensure the United States remains the world leader in transportation innovation,” Peters said.