Sens. Thune, Peters sponsor bill to safely regulate self-driving cars

U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Gary Peters (D-MI) recently introduced a bill that would place a variety of safety regulations on self-driving cars.

The American Vision for Safer Transportation Through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act would require manufacturers to submit safety evaluation reports to the Secretary of Transportation with information addressing important factors including safety, crashworthiness, and cybersecurity through documented testing. Such reports must be submitted prior to the testing or deployment of a self-driving vehicle.

It also ensures the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) responsibility for automated vehicle design, construction, and performance while maintaining state and local roles in determining traffic laws, registration, and licensing. Further, it creates specific requirements for manufacturers to ensure that all self-driving vehicles account for state and local traffic laws.

It also directs the DOT to act quickly to modernize existing federal motor vehicle safety standards, which were written before self-driving vehicles were envisioned. In addition, it expands the DOT’s existing discretionary authority to implement an enhanced review and approval process for federal motor vehicle safety standards to prioritize safety for up to 100,000 vehicles per manufacturer three years after enactment.

The legislation also prevents the denial of a license to operate a self-driving vehicle on the basis of a disability and only applies to vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less.

“This legislation proposes common-sense changes in law to keep pace with advances in self-driving technology,” Thune, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, said. “By playing a constructive role in the development of self-driving transportation systems, our government can help save lives, improve mobility for all Americans – including those with disabilities, and create new jobs by making us leaders in this important technology.”

Peters said it is vital that public policy keeps pace with this revolutionary technology. More than 90 percent of the 35,000 motor vehicle crash fatalities in 2015 were attributable to human error. Highly Automated Vehicles (AVs) have the potential to significantly reduce the number of deaths on the road.

“Chairman Thune and I have worked closely together for months to craft this bipartisan legislation, and today’s introduction is a momentous step toward ensuring that Michigan and the United States continue to lead the world in automotive innovation that keeps our country economically competitive,” Peters, a member of the Commerce Committee, said. “I look forward to our continued efforts to ensure the safe deployment and use of self-driving vehicles as the Commerce Committee considers this important legislation.”

However, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) said the bill needs improvements in one particular area.

“Blocking insurer access to critical data harms consumers by crippling their ability to promptly handle claims and compensate accident victims. Access to data is also necessary for insurers to support the rapidly emerging technology with new insurance products. Recognizing the complexity of the issue, PCI supports including a provision that allows experts time to review the types of data these vehicles will produce, ensuring consumers choice for third parties to access their data, and protects a vibrant competitive insurance marketplace,” Nat Wienecke, senior vice president of federal government relations at PCI, said.

PCI urges the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to ensure that insurer access to this data is preserved.