U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, this week discussed the future of self-driving vehicle legislation in a full committee hearing that explored automated vehicle technology and hurdles for testing and deployment in the United States.
“The transportation laws and regulations currently on the books did not contemplate the concept of self-driving vehicles,” said Thune. “Current federal motor vehicle safety standards do not address automated technologies, and in some cases directly conflict with them. We are looking for ways to address these conflicts in dated rules without weakening the important vehicle safety protections they provide. We also must be careful to avoid picking winners and losers in this space. Self-driving vehicles may employ different technologies, and their deployment may follow varying business models. So, it is important for Congress not to favor one path before the market figures out what really works best. While we look for ways to help self-driving vehicles get on the road quickly, we need to make sure that safety remains our number one priority.”
Thune, along with Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), released principles for bipartisan legislation on self-driving vehicles ahead of this week’s hearing:
Self-driving vehicles have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives every year on our nation’s highways, improve mobility, and spur enormous economic activity. The legislation aims to direct strong federal leadership that ensures safe self-driving vehicles on the road and reduces regulatory conflicts to the safe and rapid testing and deployment of this transformative technology.
- Prioritize Safety: As with conventional vehicles, federal standards will be important to self-driving vehicle safety.
- Legislation must consider both the near-term and long-term regulatory oversight of these vehicles, recognizing that new safety standards governing these vehicles should eventually be set.
- Promote Continued Innovation and Reduce Existing Roadblocks: Currently, there is a body of regulations governing conventional vehicles, developed over decades, that does not directly address self-driving vehicles. Developing new standards takes significant time.
- Legislation must allow the life-saving safety benefits of self-driving vehicle technology to move forward as new standards development is underway.
- Legislation must find ways to preserve and improve safety while addressing incompatibility with old rules that were not written with self-driving vehicles in mind.
- Remain Tech Neutral: Self-driving vehicles are likely to take different forms, use diverse technologies, serve consumers with varying capability levels, and follow multiple business models.
- Legislation must be technology neutral and avoid favoring the business models of some developers of self-driving vehicles over others.
- Reinforce Separate Federal and State Roles: Traditionally, the federal government has regulated the vehicle itself, while states have regulated driver behavior.
- Legislation must clarify the responsibilities of federal and state regulators to protect the public and prevent conflicting laws and rules from stifling this new technology.
- Legislation must be based on the existing relationship between federal and state regulators and their current separation of authority, but make necessary targeted updates for new challenges posed by the current regulatory environment with respect to self-driving vehicles.
- Strengthen Cybersecurity: Cybersecurity should be a top priority for manufacturers of self-driving vehicles and it must be an integral feature of self-driving vehicles from the very beginning of their development.
- Legislation must address the connectivity of self-driving vehicles and potential cybersecurity vulnerabilities before they compromise safety.
- Educate the Public to Encourage Responsible Adoption of Self-Driving Vehicles: Government and industry should work together to ensure the public understands the differences between conventional and self-driving vehicles.