Recent high-profile crashes involving self-driving cars have emboldened critics of the technology, potentially hindering legislation allowing the technology’s proliferation.
Two March crashes in California and Arizona that each left one person dead came just as U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan) struggles to gather support for the AV Start Act, according to The Detroit News. The Act would allow automakers to sell more than 80,000 self-driving cars each year.
A group of Democratic senators sent a letter on March 14 to the Act’s chief backers, urging them to rethink their support.
“As we understand it, the primary objective of the AV START Act is to establish an interim framework for the deployment of self-driving technology before it is mature enough to enable specific new federal safety standards,” wrote U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-California); Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut); Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts); Kirsten Gillibrand, (D-New York) and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico).
““We respect the need for this approach, but ask that the framework support rapid progress toward appropriate safety standards. We are concerned that the bill indefinitely pre-empts state and local safety regulations even if federal safety standards are never developed. Placing a sunset on this interim pre-emption provision would encourage collaboration with federal regulators and maintain a firm timetable for new safety standards, which will have their own preemptive effect.”
The proposed measure, of which a similar version passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, would direct the U.S. Department of Transportation to produce a report on what elements of federal motor vehicle safety standards would need to be updated to allow self-driving cars to perform tasks currently required of human drivers. The Secretary of Transportation would be required to accept comments on proposed rules for self-driving cars and decide on them within one year.
The measure would also prohibit states and other local jurisdictions from adopting their own regulations regarding self-driving vehicles.
Consumer Watchdog’s privacy and technology project director John Simpson told the News the opposing senators should continue their opposition until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) finish their investigations into the Arizona and California crashes.
“Last I knew, there were five senators who had placed a hold on the AV Start bill because they are trying to get more things added to the bill,” Simpson said. “We have called for an overall moratorium on any on-road, public road testing until that NTSB report is completed on the Uber crash, but people are still testing. Last I knew, Uber had suspended, but I don’t know when they are going to resume again or if they are going to resume again.”
Uber announced on March 26, 2018 they suspended all self-driving vehicle operations following the Arizona crash.
Companies including General Motors, Ford Motor Company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and others urged the Senate to pass the bill before Memorial Day.
“The AV START Act represents an historic opportunity for Congress to establish a technology neutral regulatory framework to advance these groundbreaking technologies while supporting research and investment in the United States,” the groups wrote. “Due to these benefits, we believe this legislation will garner overwhelming bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate.”
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