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Senate, House, and FTC Seek to Steer the Course of Self-Driving Vehicles

Members of Congress are gearing up for national laws on autonomous vehicles. Last week in the Senate, John Thune (R-S.D.), Gary Peter (D-Mich.), and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) released a list of principles for bipartisan legislation in advance of a hearing they convened on June 14, 2017, entitled “Paving the Way for Self-Driving Vehicles.”  In the House of Representatives, a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee circulated discussion drafts of fourteen bills that also address autonomous vehicles.  Although the legislative efforts in both houses are still in early stages, they underscore the federal government’s interest in driving the decisions about how to prioritize safety while also fostering innovation in automated technologies.

Indeed, the Senators released a set of principles that they said they designed to address both safety and advancements in technology. More specifically, their principles aim to guide national legislation to do the following:

  • Prioritize setting federal safety standards that address new technologies;

  • Reduce “roadblocks” to innovation by eliminating existing rules that are incompatible with new technologies and that prevent the development of life-saving features;

  • Maintain neutrality with respect to emerging technologies, so as not to favor the business models of some developers over others;

  • Reinforce the separate roles that state and federal legislators have had in regulating cars, while also allowing flexibility for changes in that relationship due to new technologies;

  • Require cybersecurity to “be an integral feature of” automated vehicles so that potential vulnerabilities do not compromise safety; and

  • Encourage collaboration between the government and industry to provide public education on the differences between conventional and self-driving vehicles.

The Senators released these principles on June 13, one day before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held the hearing on self-driving cars. During that hearing, Senators and industry members discussed the content of the principles, particularly with respect to hurdles for testing and deployment, as well as the federal and state roles. There is no set timeline for developing draft legislation, but the Senators have suggested that they may release the text by August of this year.

On the House side, the Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee has already drafted bills that address many of the same issues presented by the Senate. On June 15, 2017, the Subcommittee circulated the drafts.

Legislators, however, are not the only ones in Washington gearing up to address self-driving vehicles this month. The Federal Trade Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will hold a workshop on June 28, 2017, to examine the consumer privacy and security issues posed by automated and connected vehicles.  The final agenda, which the FTC has just released, is available here.

Rebecca Yergin authored this post.

© 2020 Covington & Burling LLPNational Law Review, Volume VII, Number 171


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