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Congress to Restart Stalled ‘Self-Driving Car Bill' in an Effort to Speed Up Adoption

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【Summary】Two key committees in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday said they will revive efforts to pass long-stalled legislation to speed the adoption of self-driving cars, which will give automakers and tech companies more freedom to further develop the technology.

FutureCar Staff    Jul 30, 2019 3:40 PM PT
Congress to Restart Stalled ‘Self-Driving Car Bill' in an Effort to Speed Up Adoption
Ford is testing its autonomous vehicles developed with Argo.AI in Washington DC and plans to expand to additional cities.

Although the auto industry appears to be solely focused on self-driving cars, in most areas they are not allowed to operate on public roads, as states and lawmakers in Washington DC are still working on legislation pertaining to autonomous vehicles.

Reuters reports that two key committees in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday said they will revive efforts to pass long-stalled legislation to speed the adoption of self-driving cars, which will give automakers and tech companies more freedom to further develop the technology.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate Commerce Committee sent automakers, safety groups and others interested in the bill a request for input and said they were working on a "bipartisan and bicameral basis to develop a self-driving car bill."

In December, Congress abandoned efforts to pass legislation on self-driving cars before it adjourned, a setback for companies like General Motors and Alphabet Inc's Waymo unit, both of which are working to launch a commercial ride-hailing service using autonomous vehicles.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, representing General Motors, Volkswagen AG Toyota Motor Corp and others, praised the announcement.

"Right now various countries are exploring regulations that will shape the future of autonomous vehicles, and the U.S. risks losing its leadership in this life-saving, life-changing technology, so we urge Congress to move forward now, this year," spokeswoman Gloria Bergquist said.

The letter sought input by August 23 on a variety of issues including federal rules for testing on public roads, privacy concerns, disability access, cybersecurity, consumer education and crash data. 

The U.S. House unanimously passed legislation in September 2017 by voice vote to speed the adoption of self-driving cars, but it stalled in the Senate last year. Despite a series of concessions by automakers, the bill could not overcome objections of some Democrats who said it did not do enough to address safety concerns. 

Under the prior legislation, automakers would have been able to win exemptions from safety rules that require human controls. States could set rules on registration, licensing, liability, insurance and safety inspections but not set their own performance standards.

In October, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it was considering a pilot program to allow real-world road testing for a limited number of vehicles without human controls.

Automakers must currently meet nearly 75 auto safety standards, many of them written under the assumption that a licensed driver would be behind the wheel to take control. The safety standards also assume that the vehicle will have a steering, brake and accelerator pedals, which a self-driving car technically doesn't need. 

In January 2017, GM filed a petition with NHTSA seeking an exemption to deploy fully automated Chevy Bolt EV vehicles built by GM without steering wheels before the end of 2019. The petition is still under review, which stalled GM's progress.

Last week, GM's self-driving unit, Cruise, said it was delaying the commercial deployment of cars past its target of 2019 as more testing of the vehicles was required.

Nevada was the first state to authorize the operation of autonomous vehicles back in 2011. Since then, 21 other states, including Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Vermont and Washington D.C. have passed legislation related to autonomous vehicles. 

Governors in Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Washington and Wisconsin have issued executive orders related to autonomous vehicles.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed an executive order in late August 2015 directing various agencies to "undertake any necessary steps to support the testing and operation of self-driving vehicles on public roads within Arizona." He also ordered the enabling of pilot programs at selected universities and developed rules to be followed by the programs. 

On March 1, 2018, Ducey signed Executive Order 2018-04. The order includes new updates to keep pace with emerging technology, including advancements toward fully-autonomous vehicles, as well as requiring all automated driving systems to be in compliance with all federal and state safety standards.

Waymo has taken advantage of the looser regulations in Arizona and is testing its Waymo One autonomous ride-hailing service in the Phoenix Metro Area using a fleet of autonomous driving minivans—some of the vehicles are without safety drivers behind the wheel.

resource from: Reuters

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