The Driverless Commute: Autonomous vehicle legislation revving its engine

Federal autonomous vehicle legislation is back on the table.

Over the past few months the Republican and Democratic staffs of the House Energy and Commerce and Senate Commerce committees have been holding meetings to hash out bits and pieces of what could, ultimately, form a comprehensive autonomous driving bill. Notably, the bipartisan-bicameral approach has focused, up to this point, on the issues where there is the most consensus: exemptions, testing and evaluation and the establishment of an automated vehicles advisory council. The bipartisan working groups released discussion drafts for each subsection. While exemptions and testing have always been part of the conversation, the Advisory Council, as least as it is presented in the working draft, is a new wrinkle.

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Federal AV legislation failed to cross the finish line in 2018. Where do we go from here?

When it comes to the future of autonomous vehicle regulations, very few things are black and white—except for the fact that no federal overhaul of AV safety regulations will come to pass in the immediate future. US Senator John Thune (R-SD), former chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation before turning in the gavel to become his party’s majority whip, described the inability of the Senate to pass the AV Start Act in the 2018 lame-duck session in one word: “disappointing.”

Ultimately, the death of the bill was due to safety concerns championed by Democratic Senators Ed Markey (MA), Richard Blumenthal (CT) and Dianne Feinstein (CA), coupled with the tepid, on-again-off-again support of the American Association for Justice, a nonprofit advocacy and lobbying organization for plaintiff’s lawyers.

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