House passes automated vehicle legislation, but commercial vehicles not included

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 9/7/2017

On Wednesday, Sept. 7, the House passed the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution Act, or SELF DRIVE Act, by a voice vote. The bill establishes new rules for “highly automated vehicles,” excluding commercial motor vehicles.

If passed by the Senate, the SELF DRIVE Act will require the U.S. Department of Transportation to “complete research to determine the most cost-effective method and terminology for informing consumers about the capabilities and limitations of each highly automated vehicle or each vehicle that performs partial driving automation.”

However, the bill defines “highly automated vehicle” as “a motor vehicle, other than a commercial motor vehicle, that is equipped with an automated driving system.” By leaving commercial vehicles out of the equation, the future of self-driving trucks is still in limbo.

The SELF DRIVE Act would allow manufacturers to bypass certain state and federal safety/design regulations for self-driving cars in order to speed up the development of the technology. Automakers will be limited to introduce no more than 100,000 of these vehicles each year.

Manufacturers have complained – and lawmakers have acknowledged – that varying state laws have made it difficult to roll out newer technology. Consumers could find themselves in a predicament during interstate travel when driving into a state that does not allow the same self-driving protections as the driver's home state. This bill gives the federal government the final say, alleviating burden caused by patchwork state regulations.

Consumers will be protected by the bill if passed. According to the bill, automakers will have to communicate to purchasers of highly automated vehicles the capabilities and limitations of the vehicle.

Under the bill, manufacturers will not be able to sell highly automated vehicles without having developed a cybersecurity plan that covers these points:

  • A written cybersecurity policy for detecting and responding to cyberattacks, unauthorized intrusions and false/spurious messages or vehicle control commands;
  • Establishing an officer as the point of contact with responsibility for the management of cybersecurity;
  • A process for limiting access to automated driving systems; and
  • A process for employee training and supervision for implementation and maintenance of the cybersecurity plan.

The bill also requires the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to establish a Highly Automated Vehicle Advisory. The advisory council will include business/academia/independent researchers, state and local authorities, 14 safety and consumer advocates, engineers, labor organizations, environmental experts and a NHTSA representative.

To appease safety groups and avoid other complications, commercial vehicles were left out of the SAFE DRIVE Act. Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is responsible for establishing legislation regarding automated technology in commercial vehicles. The committee is scheduled to have a hearing titled “Transportation Innovation: Automated Trucks and our Nation's Highways” on Wednesday, Sept. 13, to address legislation issues with trucks, buses and other heavy duty vehicles.

Also tucked into the bill is a provision to protect children from being left in cars during extreme heat. If passed, the SELF DRIVE Act will require all new motor vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds to be equipped with an alarm system to alert the driver to check the rear seats after the vehicle or engine has been deactivated.

Another provision not related to highly automated vehicles addresses the issue of headlamps. The bill will require the Secretary of Transportation to complete research to update safety standards and performance requirements for headlamps.

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