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House moves forward with autonomous vehicle legislation

Wednesday, September 20, 2017 - 07:00
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Self-driving legislation is on the road and moving through the House. The House Energy & Commerce Committee passed a far-ranging bill on July 27. The bill is called the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution Act or the SELF DRIVE Act.

It passed the committee by a vote of 54-0 which, theoretically, means the bill will pass the full House. No companion bill has been introduced in the Senate. But the unanimous House committee vote was impressive given the enmity between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. The vote bodes well for the passage of some autonomous vehicle (AV) legislation this year.

Frederick Hill, spokesman for Sen. John Thune (R-SD), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, says he doesn't know whether Thune, through whose committee a companion to the SELF DRIVE Act must move, has commented on the House bill. "There is a Senate bill in the works," Hill adds. That committee has published a summary of principles but no bill has been introduced.

The big issue for the aftermarket, the one raised by the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA), is whether suppliers can also test AV components the same way auto manufacturers can test vehicles. And the House bill establishes that authority.

"The top priority for us was insuring that suppliers can test components on public roads, and the bill allows us to do that," says Tom Lehner, vice president, public policy, MEMA. The second priority, according to Lehner, was making sure there is clarification and a distinction between state and federal regulatory roles. The bill also establishes that separation.

The bill prohibits states and localities from regulating the design, construction or performance of highly autonomous vehicles, presumably levels 3-5, though the bill does not specify that. The ability for states to regulate licensing, liability and congestion management, among other areas traditionally regulated by states, is explicitly preserved.

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