WASHINGTON — Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, are making a joint effort to explore legislation that clears hurdles and advances innovation in self-driving vehicle technology.
The senators said the fact that many federal vehicle safety standards refer to placement of driver controls and other systems that assume a human operator is an impediment to advancing self-driving technology.
“More than any other automotive technology in history, self-driving vehicles have the potential to dramatically reduce the more than 35,000 lives lost on our roads and highways every year and fundamentally transform the way we get around,” Peters and Thune said in a joint statement. “Ensuring American innovators can safely develop and implement this technology will not only save lives but also solidify our nation’s position as the world leader in the future of mobility.”
Last September, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced its much-anticipated policy regarding automated vehicles, much-anticipated because of the May 7, 2016, crash when a 2015 Tesla Model S with automated driver assistance crashed into the side of a tractor-trailer near Williston, Florida, killing 40-year-old Joshua D. Brown of Canton, Ohio, who was operating the vehicle.
In revealing the crash on June 30, almost two months after it happened, government officials and the automaker said the car’s cameras failed to distinguish the white side of the turning tractor-trailer from a brightly lit sky and didn't automatically activate its brakes.
A National Transportation Safety Board report said that according to system performance data downloaded from the car, the indicated vehicle speed was 74 mph just prior to impact, and the posted speed limit was 65 mph.
The car was also equipped with automatic emergency braking that is designed to automatically apply the brakes to reduce the severity of or assist in avoiding frontal collisions.
According to the DOT, the policies it released last year are targeted at highly automated vehicles, which are vehicles that “can take full control of the driving task in at least some circumstances,” according to DOT documents.
The new policy is broken down into four components: vehicle performance guidance, model state policy, current regulatory tools and modern regulatory tools.
“As we seek to identify areas where Congress should assist innovators in bringing this new technology to our roads, we will work closely with our colleagues, interested safety and mobility advocates, and other leaders in automated vehicle technology to find solutions that enable the safe testing and deployment of self-driving vehicles and assure public confidence,” the senators said in a bi-partisan statement. “We both recognize that public policy must adapt to this new, rapidly-changing technology to ensure the federal government maintains safety while leaving room for innovators to reach their full potential.”
Noting that current federal vehicle safety standards make sense in today’s conventional vehicles, they could inhibit innovation or create hazards for self-driving vehicles, left on their own, the slow pace of regulation could become a significant obstacle to the development of new and safer vehicle technology in the United States.
“We are particularly interested in ways to improve regulatory flexibility for testing and development of self-driving vehicles without changes to regulations that would affect conventional autos,” the senators said. “Our effort will also include a discussion on the existing patchwork of laws and regulations and the traditional roles of federal and state regulators. We both put a premium on building consensus with our colleagues, and we certainly expect to have opportunities to update the public on our work. While we don’t have a specific timetable for producing legislation, we aim to propose a joint bill this year.”
Peters is also a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and cofounder of the bipartisan Senate Smart Transportation Caucus.
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