Recent Op-Eds

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, I’m fortunate to be involved in a wide range of issues that affect nearly every American in one way or another. My committee has jurisdiction over matters relating to weather forecasting, science, technology, interstate commerce, highway safety, and our nation’s transportation system as a whole. We cover all things planes, trains, and automobiles – and since we also oversee the U.S. Coast Guard and NASA, I guess you could add boats and spacecraft to that list, too.

This unique intersection of topics, which is unlike most other committees in the Senate, gives me the opportunity to pursue ideas with an eye toward futuristic realities that are within reach. For example, the Senate has already passed my Making Opportunities for Broadband Investment and Limiting Excessive and Needless Obstacles to Wireless (MOBILE NOW) Act, which would lay important and necessary groundwork to help the United States – South Dakota in particular, I hope – lead the world into the 5G mobile broadband era.

MOBILE NOW is bipartisan, supported by key industry leaders, and would benefit consumers and businesses alike. Getting this bill through the House and across the finish line would mark an important step toward cementing our role in the future of this cutting-edge technology.

This fall, after spending months working with Republicans and Democrats on my committee, I introduced another bipartisan, forward-looking proposal with Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.). The American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act would create a new safety review process at the U.S. Department of Transportation, enhance safety oversight, and clarify the roles for federal, state, and local regulators with respect to self-driving or automated vehicle (AV) technology.

Right now, the federal government is responsible for regulating vehicle performance, while states and local governments regulate drivers and related issues like insurance, speed limits, and most other traffic ordinances. There are varying degrees of AV technology, and in some cases, no human operator is required. This new technological environment blurs the line between federal, state, and local regulatory responsibilities. My bill provides greater clarity for governments and innovators to hopefully prevent unnecessary burdens from standing in the way of progress on AV technology.

Roadways around the country claim more than 35,000 lives every year. More than 90 percent of those fatalities are due to human error like distracted driving or driving under the influence. Safety must always be a priority, and many American-made vehicles on the road today are already equipped with new technology that makes driving easier and safer: self-parking functionality, automatic braking, and lane departure warnings, just to name a few. From a purely safety perspective, if AV technology can save lives by making vehicles safer, why wouldn’t we pursue it?

For self-driving vehicle technology, the future is now. If the United States doesn’t lead this effort, other countries around the world will. While the AV START Act is Congress’ first effort to harness the safety, quality of life, and economic benefits of this kind of technology, it certainly won’t be the last. There’s a long road ahead of us, but it’s one worth traveling.