WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed his work to develop a bipartisan legislative framework to govern the testing and deployment of automated vehicles (AVs) and his amendment to the Endless Frontier Act, which would’ve helped keep the United States ahead of China in the AV revolution. Thune expressed his disappointment that Democrats blocked his amendment due to pressure from outside interest groups, which is ultimately not in the best interest of our economy or the American people. AVs have the power to transform the way we move in numerous ways, making the transportation system safer, more efficient, and more accessible.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, from the beginning, the story of the U.S. auto industry has been one of ingenuity, of taking risks and of pushing forward.
“At the dawn of the twentieth century, most Americans could hardly comprehend the idea of the automobile.
“Yet twenty years later they had become nearly ubiquitous in American life, thanks to the insistence of entrepreneurs like Henry Ford on making the automobile affordable for the majority of Americans.
“The democratization¬ of the automobile, rather than the invention of the automobile itself, is – in my opinion – one of the most remarkable and uniquely American success stories.
“Automobiles allowed Americans to capitalize on the economic dynamism of the Roaring Twenties, and helped Americans move and adapt during the Great Depression.
“They contributed greatly to the American industrial base and the know-how needed to fight and win the Second World War, and helped propel the United States to its current status as a preeminent global economic and military power.
“Visionary investments like the Interstate Highway System made cars a staple in American economic and cultural life.
“And cars certainly made it a lot easier to get to and from rural America.
“In a place like rural South Dakota, with limited public transportation, the automobile – often a pickup or an SUV – is typically the only way we get around.
“Mr. President, today the automobile industry stands on the brink of a new technological revolution, which promises to dramatically transform mobility once again.
“Over the past three decades, the internet has transformed our economy and our way of life.
“And the next generation of the internet – 5G, which is currently being deployed across the nation – will enable a host of new innovations, including a revolution in vehicle technology: automated vehicles, or AVs.
“AVs will change the way we move in numerous ways, making the transportation system safer, more efficient, and more accessible.
“Individuals whose mobility is currently limited – for example, Americans with disabilities – could gain new independence with the deployment of automated vehicles, allowing them to work or visit friends and family safely and easily.
“I’m proud that my proposed AV amendment to the Endless Frontier Act was recently endorsed by the National Federation of the Blind, and I ask for unanimous consent that the letter of endorsement be inserted in the record.
“Or, Imagine a farmer in rural South Dakota who can no longer drive to get to town for appointments, prescriptions, or groceries.
“Enter the automated vehicle.
“This technology has the potential to keep people in their homes and communities longer.
“Moreover, AVs have the potential to greatly increase roadway safety.
“Currently, there is an average of more than 35,000 traffic fatalities on our nation’s roadways each year, including pedestrian, motorcycle, and bicycle fatalities.
“Automated vehicles could dramatically reduce that number.
“Distracted driving, driving while impaired … automated vehicles could eliminate those dangers.
“Mr. President, for automated vehicle technology to advance, it is imperative that the regulatory framework catch up with private-sector innovation.
“That’s why I’ve pushed for enactment of AV legislation over the past several years, and why I had hoped that we’d be voting to add my automated vehicles amendment to the legislation before the Senate today.
“I’ve spent nearly five years working in a bipartisan manner on a legislative framework to govern the testing and deployment of AVs.
“The amendment I offered to the bill before us today – an amendment that I had hoped to be able to offer with bipartisan support – would have paved the way for expanded testing and deployment of automated vehicles in the United States, under the oversight of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“And let me emphasize that oversight point.
“My amendment would ensure that automated vehicles would not touch pavement without the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s certification that they are at least as safe as a conventional vehicle.
“The data gathered from the vehicles deployed as a result of this amendment would be crucial to the development of future motor vehicle safety standards for AVs.
“Unfortunately, bipartisan agreement on my amendment collapsed when special interests expressed their opposition, despite major efforts to accommodate their concerns.
“And I’m deeply disappointed that once again Democrats yielded to pressure from special interests against the best interests of our economy and the American people.
“Advancing AV technology is not just a vehicle safety issue.
“It’s also an issue of U.S. leadership and global competitiveness.
“Investing in the production of AV technology here in the United States would not only strengthen the resilience of the auto industry, but also the nation’s industrial base and our national security.
“The auto industry touches nearly every U.S. state.
“For example, Horton in Britton, South Dakota, manufactures engine cooling systems, providing steady, good-paying jobs for that community and strengthening the local economy.
“The same story repeats itself countless times in communities across the nation.
“Providing millions of jobs and investing billions annually, the American auto industry is a critical component of the nation’s economy.
“Right now, U.S. companies lead the world in AV technology, but other nations like China are seizing upon our regulatory inaction and striving to take the lead.
“If we don’t move forward with automated vehicle technology, we will soon see some other nation leading the AV revolution.
“Mr. President, the legislative package before us today is designed to bolster the global competitiveness of the United States.
“It’s pretty difficult to understand why this reasonable – and no-cost – AV amendment, which would lead to untold benefits for our nation’s transportation system, does not fit in.
“How can a bill making strong investments in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and advanced manufacturing exclude a legislative framework for AVs?
“Are we really going to back down from leading the world in automotive innovation and technology, and cede the future of this industry to nations like China?
“Will we really ignore the enormous safety benefits of these vehicles just to suit Democrats’ political convenience?
“Mr. President, more than a century ago, when the automobile was invented, there were plenty of skeptics.
“But America’s automobile pioneers didn’t let that stop them.
“They seized the moment and pressed forward and ushered in a transportation revolution.
“We can do that again today.
“Or we can cede this moment to nations like China and let the American automobile industry fall permanently behind.
“I hope we’ll choose to seize this moment and pass the legislation we need to usher in another American transportation revolution.
“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”