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The Senate Commerce Committee just took the next step in creating what could be the new national standard for the testing and deployment of self-driving cars. The committee unanimously agreed to send its bill, called AV Start, to the Senate floor on Wednesday.
The bipartisan bill would establish nation-wide regulations for how companies like Uber, Tesla, Lyft, GM and others safely and legally test and then roll out their self-driving cars on public roads.
The bill, sponsored by Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), was introduced last week and mirrored in many ways a similar bill that was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in September.
Both bills would preclude states from passing any laws that would or would attempt to regulate how self-driving cars perform. State lawmakers would instead continue in their role of licensing drivers, law enforcement, crash investigations and more.
However, the Senate bill also includes language that specifically prohibits states from discriminating against people with disabilities by creating laws that would, for instance, require a licensed driver to be present in a fully self-driving car at all times. Disability advocates have been incredibly vocal leading up to the drafting of both the House and Senate bills, arguing that while they stand to benefit greatly from the promise of autonomous technology, laws that require licensed drivers in the cars could be prohibitive.
While the bill was passed unanimously, there appears to be disagreements among senators about whether the bill should include a framework for autonomous trucks. U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), introduced an amendment to the bill, which he eventually withdrew, that would allow for the testing and deployment of self-driving trucks.
Organizations such as the American Trucking Association, FedEx, UPS, Uber, Volvo and others have submitted letters of support for the inclusion of an amendment that would create a national framework for self-driving trucks.
“Excluding some motor vehicles would create a tiered regulatory framework and allow a patchwork of 50 individual state standards to hinder efforts to bring to market new life changing technologies,” Inhofe said.
Senator Thune said he shared Inhofe’s views.
“Obviously to advance this legislation in a bipartisan way there were some decisions that we made along the way, Senator Peters and I and others with respect to trucks coming out of the committee,” Thune said. “But I share the view you have about this.”
Senator Todd Young (R-IN) echoed Inhofe’s statements and said that “misguided anxieties” have caused this preemption not to be included in this version of the bill.
“I do understand there are anxieties on the other side of the aisle but we ought to be including large trucks,” Young said. “Let’s face it, this is primarily not being included on account of labor market concerns so we ought to just be transparent about that. An argument can be made about that but I think it’s short sighted. This is about perceived job losses on account of automation.”
“The industry is changing, we can adapt the current work force needs,” he continued. “We ought to be leaning into this and understand that this is where the industry is headed.”
The newly marked up bill also included amendments regarding cybersecurity of autonomous vehicles as well as privacy and consumer education around how the technology worked.