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Federal approach to regulating automated vehicles described as a “giveaway to the industry”

After producing draft legislation for discussion last week, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing this week about automated vehicles (AVs). Some of the witnesses’ testimony highlighted the continued problems with the committee’s approach that would hand the oversight keys to automakers and manufacturers, kick cities to the curb, and threaten the safety of millions.

The hearing, “Transportation Innovation: Automated Trucks and our Nation’s Highways,” was intended to inform the Senate’s approach to the inclusion of commercial vehicles in their AV legislation. But the hearing also highlighted many of the larger issues about the proposed framework to manage all automated vehicles — commercial or not — and much of the discussion focused on the need to get the framework right before setting it into law.

It’s hard to imagine they’ll get it right with the private sector in charge.

Ken Hall, General Secretary-Treasurer of the Teamsters, raised this point throughout the hearing, noting the private sector and auto industry’s long history of skirting rules and putting consumers at risk, and warned that we “can’t trust the industry to guide the process to safety based on their past behavior.”

The hearing came the same week that the National Highway Traffic Safety Association released new guidance on automated vehicles, guidance which Senator Richard Blumenthal described as “anemic,” and “a giveaway to the industry,” adding that the introduction of these vehicles “could result in lives lost unless we have enforceable rules to protect the public.”

Not only have both the House and Senate ignored the important role of state and local governments in the process of testing vehicles, but their approach threatens state and local ability to regulate their own roads. From our statement about the Senate draft:

The bill strips states and local governments of the authority to manage the vehicles on their roadways and leaves them without the tools to deal with problems already arising during the testing and deployment of automated vehicles. Cities work to make streets safe places for all users and are not willing to endanger citizens for the sake of innovation with no levers of control. For example, if the safety report showed that a certain type of LIDAR system is incapable of reading a stop sign if vandalized with graffiti, or confused by bike lanes if painted a certain shade of green, state or local authorities — who own and maintain almost all roadways — would have no ability to intervene.

Public confidence in AVs will be vital to their adoption, and it’s hard to imagine how they could ever be deployed effectively by hiding their safety performance from the public and preventing the managers of our roadways and public safety officers from having a role in managing them.

“States and municipalities have to be at the table, whether we’re talking about lane markings and how we have systems that interact with each other, or about the rules of the road we set,” Deborah Hersman, President of the National Safety Council, said in the hearing. “We need to bring all parties in the loop and state and local leaders need to have a role in that.”

The committee has asked for all comments on the draft discussion to be submitted by the end of the day today (Friday). Based on how quickly they’ve moved so far, we expect them to take comments, produce a revised draft, and prepare for a markup soon. In the meantime, we’re continuing to push the committee to consider the issues that we and their witnesses raised in the past week and produce a bill that provides all levels of government with the tools to ensure the safety of these vehicles on our roads and in our communities.

2 Comments

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    I don’t think the industry can design automated vehicles to satisfy 50 different standards for 50 different states and hundreds of cities. States and cities need to work together to ensure that an AV and/or CV that operates in Miami will operate in as effectively in LA and every small and large city and community in between. It would be great if this organization could help everyone get on the same page.

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