House subcommittee passes landmark federal autonomous vehicle legislation

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 7/20/2017

The road to self-driving cars on the nation’s highways is starting to be paved. On Wednesday, July 19, the House Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection unanimously passed legislation to the full committee that will allow thousands of highly automated vehicles to deploy while preventing states from imposing their own laws.

Referred to as the Highly Automated Vehicle Testing and Deployment Act, the unnumbered bill will require the U.S. Department of Transportation to submit a rulemaking and safety priority plan within one year of enactment to allow the development and deployment of HAVs.

Within 30 months after being enacted, the bill requires the DOT to issue safety assessments certifications for HAV manufacturers, including who is required to submit certifications and a detailed list of data required for certification. Those rules are to be updated at least every five years.

“Today’s markup represents the most significant step this subcommittee has taken to date to ultimately enact comprehensive legislation on self-driving technologies and services,” Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Bob Latta, R-OH, said during his opening statement. “I am very happy and appreciative that we take this step together in bipartisanship.”

The House bill will also require HAV manufacturers to develop a cybersecurity plan before selling such vehicles.

Exemptions will apply to manufacturers who produce no more than 10,000 vehicles in the most recent year of production and no more than 2,500 HAV vehicles are sold in the U.S. in a 12-month period. The number of vehicles to be exempt cannot exceed 100,000 for any individual manufacturer.

Essentially, exemptions will allow the deployment of HAVs that fall under current U.S. rules that ban vehicles with no driver controls.

States will have to adhere to certain laws regarding HAVs. If signed into law, states will not be allowed to maintain or impose laws related to the design, construction, mechanical systems, hardware/software systems or communication systems of HAVs.

States will still maintain their right to prescribe laws and regulations regarding registration, licensing, liability, driver education/training, insurance, safety inspections and traffic laws unless said laws unreasonably restrict the categories mentioned above. Several subcommittee members took issue with the ambiguous term “unreasonable.”

In addition to HAV regulations, lawmakers also created some provisions that affect all vehicles. If signed into law, all new passenger vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds will be required to have a “rear seat occupant alert system.” This system will let the driver know of any occupants in the backseat after turning the vehicle off. Lawmakers added the provision to address the problem of children and animals being left in cars during extreme weather.

Headlamps are also addressed in the HAV bill. The bill will require the DOT to revise safety standards and performance requirements for all motor vehicles headlamps. Over the years, motorists have been complaining about the intensity of headlamps on incoming traffic.

Proposed amendments include the ability for owners to delete private information from vehicles before selling, cybersecurity programs installed for all vehicles, and studies that look into the impact on rural communities.

Regarding the latter amendment, Rep. David McKinley, R-W.V., was concerned that most safety studies only dealt with highways and urban areas while ignoring rural communities. McKinley noted that rural residents may have to drive several miles on geographically challenging areas just for a doctor’s appointment. Conversely, urban dwellers may have to drive only a few blocks on paved roads, making HAV requirements vastly different.

The bill will now move to the full House Energy and Commerce Committee before going to the House floor. Some subcommittee members want to slow down and wait until September before any further actions. However, Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, expressed the importance of maintaining a set schedule and hopes for the full committee to take action before the August recess.

“For Americans to enjoy the benefits that self-driving cars have to offer, we must develop an appropriate regulatory structure that safely allows industry to innovate,” said Full Committee Chairman Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore. “We want aggressive oversight of the industry, but with the flexibility needed to test and generate the safest and most affordable technologies possible.”

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