Thune accepts award at Washington Auto Show, pushes driverless car bill

Thune accepts award at Washington Auto Show, pushes driverless car bill
© Greg Nash

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneFrustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' Hillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment Senate passes anti-robocall bill MORE (R-S.D.) on Wednesday accepted an award at the Washington Auto Show for his work on a bill to pave the way for autonomous vehicles.

The CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which advocates for the major auto companies, presented Thune with the accolade, citing his work to move a bill on driverless cars through the upper chamber.

CEO Mitch Bainwol said Thune “has earned our respect, our friendship and our thanks” for pushing the legislation, which would speed up the development and testing of autonomous vehicles.

That bill, the American Vision for Safer Transportation Through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act, hit a roadblock late last year in the upper chamber after receiving approval from the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Thune, who chairs the committee, noted Wednesday that the legislation unanimously passed through the panel and lawmakers will work out any differences.

“We have a couple of objections that we have to try to and deal with, but over the last year we have worked with 200 stakeholders who are affected by [autonomous vehicles],” Thune told a luncheon at the Auto Show.

“And so, safety has been and continues to be our No. 1 priority, and if you look at our legislation, I think you’ll see that that’s the case.”

Thune emphasized his focus on balancing safety and innovation in the bill, which would also form a new safety reporting procedure for the Department of Transportation and establish responsibilities for state and local governments.

“It’s going to make an enormous difference. He’s saving lives. He’s helping the economy. It’s really a game changer,” Bainwol said as he presented Thune with the award. 

A majority of Americans, 64 percent, are worried about operating cars on the same roads as driverless vehicles, according to a recent survey commissioned by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

Groups like Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety argue Congress must prioritize safety in the Senate legislation to ensure protections for drivers. 

“This technology will have long-lasting consequences, and it is essential that Congress get this right, and require critical safeguards and oversight,” Catherine Chase, the group’s president, said in a Wednesday statement.

“Currently the Senate bill creates a flawed process for [autonomous vehicle] deployment.”