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Senate revises bill on automated vehicles but fails to address the primary concerns of cities and states

On Wednesday, October 4, the Senate Commerce Committee will mark up the American Vision for Safer Transportation Through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act. A revised draft was released by the committee on September 29.

In numerous meetings with the Senate Commerce Committee, staff have agreed with us that cities and states must maintain their existing authority to manage the operation of all vehicles on their road networks. Unfortunately, the revised draft introduced last week does not reflect this.

“We appreciate that the committee heard our concerns on preemption, but they merely replaced their preemption language with language from the House bill, which still puts just as many cities and states at risk of losing control of their roads,” said Beth Osborne, Senior Policy Advisor of Transportation for America. “That House bill, and the preemption language within it, was hastily assembled and rushed through a House committee overnight with no time for comment or thoughtful debate from city or state transportation officials or law enforcement.”

The Senate bill restricts local governments from passing or enforcing any laws that are an “unreasonable restriction on the design, construction, or performance” of an automated vehicle. Without defining what “unreasonable restriction” or “performance” means, the language enables an endless series of lawsuits and leaves the management of our roads in the hands of judges.

Automated vehicles should be tested in real-world situations, but proper management and public safety should be paramount. This requires manufacturers sharing information on how these vehicles are operating and where they are struggling to keep up with the rules of the road with the agencies charged with managing those roadways. Merely requiring a publicly available safety report once a year does not cut it. Without access to real-time or near-real-time data on how these vehicles move throughout our streets, city and state governments as well as law enforcement will be unable to enforce their laws or adapt their infrastructure designs and investments in a timely way to ensure these vehicles have the necessary tools on the road to operate safely.

Automated vehicles have the potential to make our cities safer, more efficient, and more economically productive, and cities want to do their part to bring this new technology to our streets,” said Linda Bailey, Executive Director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO). “The legislation as currently written hinders this progress — weakening instead of strengthening cities’ and states’ ability to engage with private partners on safe operations and data sharing.”

This new technology is exciting and poised to have dramatic impacts on the safety of our streets in the long-term. But in the short-term, we need to give our cities and states — where these vehicles are operating — the authority and information to ensure their safety. Getting this right requires tackling challenges head on, and we’re disappointed the committee has chosen to run away from them.

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About T4A

Transportation for America is an alliance of elected, business and civic leaders from communities across the country, united to ensure that states and the federal government step up to invest in smart, homegrown, locally-driven transportation solutions — because these are the investments that hold the key to our future economic prosperity. Visit t4america.org

About NACTO

NACTO is an association of 55 North American cities formed to exchange transportation ideas, insights, and practices and cooperatively approach national transportation issues. The organization’s mission is to build cities as places for people, with safe, sustainable, accessible, and equitable transportation choices that support a strong economy and vibrant quality of life. To learn more, visit nacto.org.

Contact: Alexander Engel
National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)
alex@nacto.org 

 Contact: Steve Davis
Transportation for America
202-971-3902
Steve.davis@t4america.org

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