US Senate Panel Gives Green Light To Self-Driving Car Fast-Track Bill

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The commercial deployment of self-driving car tech in the US now appears to be on the fast track, following the unanimous approval of a bill aimed at just that outcome by a US Senate panel.

It should be noted here, though, that the bill — which would block states from imposing regulatory roadblocks against fully autonomous cars — still has to make it through a Senate vote. Though, this appears to now be more or less a given according some of those involved.

This news follows extensive lobbying efforts funded by GM, Alphabet/Google/Waymo, and Ford, amongst others — all of which seem to view self-driving vehicles as a means of capturing the business of the millennial generation, which in aggregate purchases far fewer vehicles than earlier generations.

“The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the bill, and the US House of Representatives unanimously passed a similar measure last month. Automakers would be 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 performance standards,” Reuters notes.

“Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, sought to amend the bill to require human controls in case of emergency, but dropped that proposal. Some senators argued it would be more dangerous to allow human drivers to seek to take over driverless cars.

“After lengthy negotiations, congressional aides added language to the bill aimed at preserving legal rights to sue over defective vehicles. This resolved a dispute that threatened to derail the bill.

“Within three years, the bill would allow automakers to each sell up to 80,000 self-driving vehicles annually if they could demonstrate they are as safe as current vehicles. Auto safety advocates complained it lacked sufficient safeguards. The phase-in schedule was revised to initially allow 15,000 per manufacturer in the first year and up to 80,000 after 3 years, down from 50,000 to start and up to 100,000 in 3 years. It would eliminate the cap after 4 years.”

The bill gives the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the authority to exempt vehicles from federal safety requirements, and requires it to create permanent rules on self-driving cars within 10 years. The regulators involved are apparently expected to study the impact of self-driving cars on traffic congestion, infrastructure wear, and fuel consumption.

Notably, none of these points pertain to self-driving commercial trucks, which will have to seek approval separately — partly as a result of union opposition, it seems.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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