Self-driving cars get huge push with Senate committee legislation approval

Bipartisan support for autonomous cars in Washington D.C. continued on Wednesday, October 4, when the Senate Commerce Committee, the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets passed self-driving legislation. The Senate committee action follows last month’s near-unanimous approval of the House of Representatives’ Self-Drive Act.

Also in September, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao introduced “Version 2.0” of the Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s guidelines for developing self-driving vehicles in the U.S. The 36-page document, officially Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety, follows earlier guidelines published under then-Secretary Anthony Foxx during Barack Obama’s administration. A self-driving law could be finalized and signed by the end of the year or in early 2018.

The Senate committee’s general counsel David Strickland said in a statement, “Today the U.S Senate Commerce Committee took a critical step forward in the effort to save lives, improve public safety and increase mobility for the elderly, disabled and underserved. By supporting a national framework for autonomous cars, this pivotal legislation will help ensure that the United States leads the world in self-driving innovation.”

The Self-Drive Act supports similar reasoning. Representatives Greg Walden (R-Oregon) and Bobb Latta (R-Ohio) issued a joint statement saying, “Self-driving cars hold the promise of making America’s roads safer, creating new economic opportunities, and helping seniors and those with disabilities live more independently. The Self Drive Act strikes the critical balance of enhancing consumer safety while promoting the continued development of this cutting-edge technology. This bipartisan bill paves the way for advanced collision avoidance systems and self-driving cars nationwide, and ensures that America stays a global leader in innovation.”

The four goals of the Self Drive Act are: Advance consumer protection and safety, reaffirm state and federal government roles and responsibilities in anonymous vehicle development, update federal motor vehicle standards to keep up with “highly automated vehicles,” and help America continue as a global leader by maximizing related research and development to create jobs and economic opportunities.

The concepts and much of the wording in the House law and NHTSA guidelines are nearly identical in expressing wide-ranging support for self-driving vehicle development. The feds will set regulations for nationwide testing, for example, so companies don’t have to choose or not choose states depending on local testing laws. States will be responsible for licensing companies and test drivers as well as registering vehicles.

The next steps following the legislation passage from the committee will be for the Senate and House to work together to finalize a bill, for each house in Congress pass it, and then for the president to sign a version of the Self Drive Act into law. So far, there have been few barriers.

Consumers still have mixed feelings about autonomous cars, but federal regulators, insurance companies, and car companies firmly believe the safety considerations, specifically a major decrease in traffic fatalities, outweigh the resistance. The introduction of fully self-driving cars will be gradual, but they may be commonplace within 10 years, if not sooner.

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