Senate Commerce chair to renew push for regs on self-driving vehicles

Senate Commerce chair to renew push for regs on self-driving vehicles
© Anna Moneymaker

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerMicrosoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate Trump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition Pay America's Coast Guard MORE (R-Miss.) announced Thursday that his panel plans to “deal with autonomous vehicles” during this Congress, and that he will specifically push for previously failed legislation that would create a federal framework for the safety and security of self-driving cars.

“We are also going to deal with autonomous vehicles, the AV START Act, and the way we think about how people and goods are transported around the country,” Wicker said during a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Congress got close on this last year … we will see how far we get this time, there are wrinkles that need to be ironed out, but I think we can get there.”

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The Mississippi Republican said his main motivation in pushing for the bill was the potential for self-driving cars to “save thousands of lives around the country” due to computer systems, and not humans, being in control.

The AV START Act never got a vote in the full Senate during the 115th Congress, despite bipartisan support, due to concerns from five Senate Democrats on whether the bill would ensure the safety of passengers in autonomous vehicles. The bill would serve as a federal regulation that would stop individual states from creating laws around self-driving cars, making it difficult for them to move between states.

The bill’s language during the last Congress also included cyber provisions meant to protect the vehicles from being hacked, such as ensuring the supply chain of parts for the vehicles was secure. This also included a provision requiring all autonomous vehicle manufacturers develop and execute a plan for reducing cyber vulnerabilities.

Senate Majority Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report: Public impeachment hearings to begin next week MORE (S.D.) was the primary Republican sponsor of the AV START Act during the last Congress, when he also served as the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Thune told The Hill last week that “we are planning to reintroduce it” soon, though he did not offer a firm date.

Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersAdvocates step up efforts for horse racing reform bill after more deaths Warren doubles down — to Democrats' chagrin, and Trump's delight Senators urge Trump to fill vacancies at DHS MORE (Mich.) was the primary Democratic sponsor of the bill in the last Congress. A spokesperson for Peters told The Hill he is "continuing to work with Senator Thune and colleagues in the House on the path forward on legislation addressing self-driving cars—to ensure we have policies that will promote continued development of these lifesaving technologies, while updating safety rules to protect consumers and incentivize companies to develop and manufacture these vehicles in the U.S."

The AV START Act could face some of the same objections from Senate Democrats as it did last time, however.  

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), one of the five senators who held up consideration of the legislation in the Senate last Congress, told The Hill last week that while he didn’t oppose the bill last year, “I insisted on certain provisions that would protect safety.”

When asked if he was working with Thune to address those provisions, Blumenthal said, “not yet, we may well, he knows about my concerns, so does Sen. Peters, and they haven’t changed.”