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Feds May Override State Autonomous Vehicle Laws

June 19, 2017

Photo of Waymo self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan courtesy of FCA.
Photo of Waymo self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan courtesy of FCA.

The U.S. Congress is taking steps to enact policy changes aimed at removing barriers to autonomous vehicle research and development, while the auto and tech industries continue to lobby for federal regulations that supersede the evolving patchwork of state laws.

Republican draft legislation in the House includes a 14-bill package that would designate the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, as the lead agency for regulating autonomous vehicles, according to a report from Reuters. If ultimately passed into law, this legislative package would essentially strip away the states' authority to set policy for self-driving vehicles.

States could continue to set some insurance and registration rules that affect autonomous vehicles under the proposal.

One of the draft bills would permit the U.S. Department of Transportation to exempt up to 100,000 vehicles annually from federal motor vehicle safety rules, which currently prohibit the sale of self-driving vehicles lacking steering wheels, pedals and other controls designed for human driver use, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, on the Senate side, three lawmakers last week released a list of principles they want to form the foundation for future Senate bills on self-driving vehicles. Senators John Thune (R-S.D.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) released their statement of policy goals in advance of a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing focused on self-driving vehicles.

The principles are prioritizing safety, promoting continued innovation and reducing existing roadblocks, remaining tech neutral, reinforcing separate federal and state roles, strengthening cybersecurity, and educating the public to encourage responsible adoption of self-driving vehicles.

“Self-driving vehicles will not only dramatically change how we get from place to place, they have the potential to prevent accidents and save thousands of lives,” said Peters, a member of the committee. “I’m pleased we have compiled this bipartisan framework, which is an important step toward introducing and enacting meaningful legislation that will help the federal government promote the safe development and adoption of self-driving vehicles and ensure the United States remains the world leader in transportation innovation.”

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