The Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate commerce committee and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan have announced plans to develop regulatory flexibility for the auto industry’s efforts to create self-driving vehicles, with an eye toward proposing legislation this year.
Peters and U.S. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota issued a statement saying that Congress needs to “assist innovators in bringing this new technology to our roads” by rewriting policies that maintain safety but still allow room for self-driving technology to reach its “full potential.”
Thune chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which oversees federal auto regulators. Peters is a member of the committee, and he has promoted legislation allowing states to invest federal funds in projects that allow vehicles to share information with infrastructure, such as roads, which is a step toward autonomous vehicles.
“More than any other automotive technology in history, self-driving vehicles have the potential to dramatically reduce the more than 35,000 lives lost on our roads and highways every year and fundamentally transform the way we get around,” the two senators said in their statement. Although they did not propose specific legislation, they indicated that they will be looking to create regulatory flexibility for new cars while navigating a thicket of existing regulations intended to keep drivers safe.
“Many current federal vehicle safety standards reference placement of driver controls and other systems that assume a human operator,” they explained. “While these requirements make sense in today’s conventional vehicles, they could inhibit innovation or create hazards for self-driving vehicles. Left on its own, the slow pace of regulation could become a significant obstacle to the development of new and safer vehicle technology.”
The two said they are particularly interested in developing methods to allow for the testing and development of self-driving vehicles, while keeping regulations on conventional cars in place. However, that means working closely with regulators and auto companies, as well as meshing their worth with those of state laws and regulators. They hope to propose a joint bill this year.
Congress is taking an increasingly close look at the potential for self-driving cars, with the House Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection set to hear from witnesses in a hearing called “Self-Driving Cars: Road to Deployment.” One of the scheduled witnesses is Mike Ableson, General Motors’ vice president of global mobility strategy, who is expected to talk about the ways in which self-driving cars will be able to reduce crashes, in addition to providing greater mobility to disabled people.
“Current (vehicle regulations) have served the motoring public well for years,” Ableson said in his prepared testimony. “However, as technology has evolved, standards, which take years to develop, have lagged behind. Without changes to those regulations, it may be years before the promise of today’s technology can be realized.”