Sep 23, 2020 - Technology

Exclusive: New push for autonomous vehicles bill

Illustration of car timeline with a blank space for a future autonomous vehicle
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

In a renewed push to get an autonomous vehicles bill through Congress, Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) is reintroducing the SELF Drive Act Wednesday, Latta told Axios.

The big picture: New policy legislation is a long shot in the short Congressional calendar leading up to Election Day. But Latta's effort shows the importance many lawmakers put on promoting a U.S. lead in the development of self-driving vehicles.

What they're saying: "The technology is changing, and we don't want the Chinese to lead," Latta, ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce technology and communications subcommittee, told Axios. "We've got to keep moving on it for safety's sake."

  • The SELF Drive Act is a federal framework for autonomous vehicle regulation in the U.S., requiring cybersecurity provisions for AV manufacturers, exempting certain national safety standards to get cars to market quicker and pre-empting states from passing safety laws regarding AVs.
  • The revised bill contains some changes from a version that passed the House previously, including language that committee aides say makes it more inclusive for people with disabilities.
  • Latta said the coronavirus crisis has made the need for self-driving cars in the U.S. even more apparent, as people seek contactless ways to get around and have goods delivered.

Flashback: After the SELF Drive Act first passed the House in 2017, objections in the Senate over certain provisions doomed the effort to create a federal regulatory framework for autonomous vehicles.

Our thought bubble, from Axios transportation reporter Joann Muller: Congress has been talking about passing AV legislation for more than two years but hasn't been able to get it done.

  • Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation offers only guidance to companies developing self-driving cars.
  • Without federal standards, the industry is relying on a patchwork of state laws, and consumer advocates complain about safety risks of AV testing on public roads.

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