The 115th U.S. Congress has struggled to move significant legislation in its first session. One of the few exceptions has been autonomous vehicle (AV) legislation.
The Obama Administration had struggled with clear guidelines for AV research and deployment, issuing only recommendations in September 2016. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced its most high-profile attempt for AV regulation, at that time, stating:
“This Policy is an important early step in that effort. We are issuing this Policy as agency guidance rather than in a rulemaking in order to speed the delivery of an initial regulatory framework and best practices to guide manufacturers and other entities in the safe design, development, testing, and deployment of HAVs. In the following pages, we divide the task of facilitating the safe introduction and deployment of HAVs into four sections:
• Vehicle Performance Guidance for Automated Vehicles
• Model State Policy
• NHTSA’s Current Regulatory Tools
• New Tools and Authorities”
Important for this discussion is the “Model State Policy." This was a nudge to states to allow the federal government to regulate AVs. NHTSA’s message to states was, “The Model State Policy confirms that states retain their traditional responsibilities for vehicle licensing and registration, traffic laws and enforcement, and motor vehicle insurance and liability regimes … The shared objective is to ensure the establishment of a consistent national framework rather than a patchwork of incompatible laws.”
On the one-year anniversary of the AV guideline release, the Trump Administration issued its AV guidelines, Automated Driving Systems (ADS): A Vision for Safety 2.0.
This fall the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee opted to package multiple AV bills and attempt bipartisan legislation that would be the next step for AVs. The final bill, the SELF DRIVE Act (H.R. 3388), passed the Energy and Commerce Committee by a vote of 54-0. Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) commented after the bill mark-up, “I truly believe the bipartisan bill-drafting process for self-driving legislation is an example of our committee at its best – working together to pursue the common goal of saving lives. Our aim was to develop a regulatory structure that allows for industry to safely innovate with significant government oversight – as safety must be the chief priority. And I believe today’s legislation strikes that critical balance.”
H.R. 3388 passed the floor of the House under a suspension of the rules allowing no amendments. Although the bill addressed numerous, important concerns like preemption, it failed to tackle the difficult issues of data access and, to a degree, cybersecurity as it relates to the vehicle aftermarket.