Nov 2, 2018

Breaking the logjam in Congress over self-driving cars

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Federal legislation of autonomous vehicles remains stalled in Congress, but there’s a small chance it could be revived in a lame-duck session. If Democrats take the House on Tuesday, some industry lobbyists think the logjam could be broken by Senate Republicans, who may be more inclined to move ahead with a compromise bill than to start over with the new House.

Why it matters: Cars with increasing levels of autonomy are already being tested and deployed on American roads, and Waymo plans to launch the first fully automated robo-taxi service in Phoenix before the end of the year. How the technology develops in the coming decades may well depend on how politics plays out today.

Where it stands: More than a year ago, the House unanimously passed the SELF DRIVE Act, which would create a regulatory framework for highly automated vehicles.

  • A separate Senate bill — the AV START Act — was approved last November by the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, but stalled out in the full Senate.

In the meantime, self-driving technology is racing ahead of regulations. Without federal standards, automakers and tech companies have to deal with a patchwork of state laws.

  • Executives like GM CEO Mary Barra are calling for federal legislation to provide a path for manufacturers to put self-driving vehicles on the roads safely, while allowing continued innovation.
“While we're arguing over whether the AV START Act is exactly right, the world is moving ahead by leaps and bounds in areas like technology, automation and artificial intelligence.”
— Shailen Bhatt, CEO, Intelligent Transportation Society of America

Yes, but: Senators on both sides of the aisle have legitimate concerns, not just about safety in light of recent accidents involving self-driving cars, but also about cybersecurity and the impact on jobs for truck drivers and others.

  • David Friedman, VP of advocacy at Consumer Reports and a former acting administrator of NHTSA, says Congress should increase NHTSA’s budget and direct them to put strong regulations in place to protect consumer privacy and ensure disabled populations have access to AVs.

Given how quickly technology is advancing and how slowly the government is moving, NHTSA and the U.S. Department of Transportation have published a series of guidelines for automated driving systems.

  • The most recent applies a “market-driven, technology-neutral” approach to AV regulation that is intended to “encourage innovation in the transportation system.”
"The goal of the Department is to keep pace with these rapidly evolving technologies so America remains a global leader in safe automation technology."
— U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao

For now, the feds are encouraging AV companies to file voluntary safety assessment reports on a dozen key factors.

The bottom line: Until federal legislation is in place, these voluntary report cards — which seem more like glossy marketing exercises designed to build public trust — will have to guide government, industry and consumers.

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Updated 29 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8 a.m. ET: 6,294,222 — Total deaths: 376,077 — Total recoveries — 2,711,241Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 8 a.m. ET: 1,811,277 — Total deaths: 105,147 — Total recoveries: 458,231 — Total tested: 17,340,682Map.
  3. Public health: Nearly 26,000 coronavirus deaths in nursing homes have been reported to federal health officials —Coronavirus looms over George Floyd protests across the country.
  4. Federal government: Trump lashes out at governors, calls for National Guard to "dominate" streets.
  5. World: Former FDA commissioner says "this is not the time" to cut ties with WHO.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: The virus didn't go away.

More than 1 in 6 black workers lost jobs between February and April

Adapted from EPI analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

As is often the case, the staggering job losses in the coronavirus-driven recession have been worse for black workers.

By the numbers: According to a report from the Economic Policy Institute, titled "Racism and economic inequality have predisposed black workers to be most hurt by coronavirus pandemic," more than 1 in 6 black workers lost their jobs between February and April.

Coronavirus could lower GDP by $15.7 trillion

Reproduced from Congressional Budget Office; Chart: Axios Visuals

The CBO released projections on Monday for U.S. nominal GDP to be lower by $15.7 trillion over the next decade than its estimate in January as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

What they're saying: It predicts that when adjusted for inflation GDP will be $7.9 trillion lower over the next decade and down by $790 billion in the second quarter of this year — a 37.7% quarterly contraction.