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Senate Needs to Get Into Gear on the AV START Act

By Jonathan Cannon | March 09, 2018

Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Gary Peters (D-Mich) have introduced a bipartisan bill to pave the road towards highly automated vehicles (HAVs). The American Vision for Safer Transportation Through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act “proposes common sense changes in law to keep pace with advances in self-driving technology.”

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee unanimously approved the AV START Act last October. This legislation should be immediately considered as it has the opportunity to save thousands of lives.

In 2016, car accidents killed 37,000 people, 94% of these fatalities were caused by human error.  Autonomous vehicles have the potential to reduce or eliminate these accidents that claim far too many American lives. The advanced vehicle technologies being developed have the potential to reduce the number of crashes, while expanding mobility for people with disabilities, seniors, and those looking for more affordable transportation.

Congress should reconcile the AV START Act with the SELF DRIVE Act in the House to strengthen safety oversight by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Department of Transportation‘s vehicle policy guidance. This legislation is technologically neutral and provides a clear delineation of federal and state roles with respect to highly automated vehicles (HAVs).

However any reconciliation between the two chambers should ensure that correct delineation between the purview of federal versus state regulation for autonomous vehicles. In other words federal regulatory bodies should maintain authority when it comes to the car, while states should have authority when it comes to the driver. States should not be prohibited from activities regulating registration, licensing, training, insurance, law enforcement, safety and emissions inspections, congestion management, or crash investigation. States maintain purview over dealership activities such as sale, distribution, and repair. These are all activities involving the human element of the driver that states have traditionally been responsible for.

To maintain consistency, increase safety, speed development, and promote commerce, regulations regarding design, construction, performance and equipment should remain with federal bodies.

The important provisions of the AV START bill include: reducing barriers to deployment by implementing enhanced review and approval processes for federal motor vehicle safety standards to prioritize safety, modernization of motor vehicle safety standards to bring them in line with self-driving vehicles, and developing policies that factor in cyber security vulnerabilities with self-driving cars by identifying and reducing these risks. This would improve safety and mobility for all Americans especially those with disabilities.

Unfortunately, regulations are creating uncertainty and delays in the development and deployment of this much-needed technology. It would be a regulatory nightmare for companies to comply with 50 different state policies under a patchwork of regulations, making it more difficult for companies to create and sell these life saving innovations. This drives up the costs of production and places an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce. Congress needs to create a single regulatory framework that preempts states and ensures that the innovative future of HAVs becomes a reality.

This legislation is a historic opportunity for a bipartisan approach to a technology neutral regulatory framework that will advance these technologies, support research, and increase investment in the US. The Senate has sat on this legislation for too long. The House has already done its part and passed legislation, there is no reason for this to have stalled in the senate. The senate needs to get in gear and hit the road so manufacturers can begin building and testing this technology.  

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