WASHINGTON – An industry-backed bill to speed up the rollout of automated vehicles may get a Senate vote after months of delay.
The measure, which would allow manufacturers to test self-driving cars before the adoption of comprehensive federal safety rules and prevent states from introducing their own stricter rules, was approved in October by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, but has not been scheduled for a vote by the full Senate.
Now, supporters are working to attach it as an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act, a must-pass bill that is expected to reach Senate floor in the coming weeks.
Frederick Hill, spokesman for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, said in an email Wednesday that attaching the measure to the FAA bill “hasn’t been ruled out.”
“If (the bill) gets attached to the FAA bill, then it’s most likely to get the votes it needs to get through,” said Alice Grossman, a policy analyst at the Eno Center for Transportation, a transportation think tank, in a phone interview. “If it doesn’t, it’s much less to get to the floor at all, which means when the next legislative session we start next year, they’re likely to have to start over.”
Automakers, including General Motors, Ford, Toyota and Tesla, along with over 100 other organizations, sent a joint letter to the Senate on Monday that urges lawmakers to vote on the bill, stressing that without a federal policy, a patchwork of state and local level rules could stifle innovation and job growth.
“If you buy a vehicle that has level 4 automation features in Nevada and you’re driving to California, you’ll have to stop and get out of the car and get in a different car when you cross the state line,” said Grossman, explaining what may happen with “patchwork regulation.”
Competition in the development of self-driving cars has intensified among traditional auto makers and technology companies. Ford announced Tuesday it has created a separate company dedicated to its automated business. On the same day, Uber said it is rebooting its test ride program on public roads in Pittsburgh, which was halted after a self-driving Uber car killed a pedestrian in March.
The industry is still collecting data to understand what requires governmental legislation and what does not, said Bert Kaufman, head of corporate and regulatory affairs at Zoox Inc., a Foster City, California-based automated vehicle startup founded in 2014.
Local Motors, a Phoenix, Arizona-based company that designs self-driving shuttles without a traditional seating position for human drivers, ran into a roadblock because of state regulations that require an operator, steering wheels or brake pedals, said David Woessner, the company’s head of regulatory affairs.
“We have to still learn more about the technology and how the technology can be used and will be used and what consumer preferences for that usage of the technology will be, before we begin to really prescribe to manufacturers or operators on how they should test, develop and deploy this technology,” Woessner said.