Bipartisan Effort Underway in Senate for Driverless Car Bill This Year

Efforts are underway in the Senate to come up with bipartisan legislation this year to spur the deployment of self-driving vehicles on American roads, Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) said Monday.

Peters, a fellow Commerce Committee member and co-founder of the Senate Smart Transportation Caucus, and Thune said in a joint statement that they plan to introduce a bill in 2017, and that the legislation would aim to remove regulatory obstacles and promote innovation in autonomous car technologies.

“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,” the two 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.”

That effort is likely to bump up against federal guidelines released by the Department of Transportation last year, as well as state laws regarding autonomous vehicles. Both Thune and Peters praised the DOT guidelines when they debuted in September, with Peters applauding the agency’s move to create a “consistent national framework.”

The DOT guidance calls for a voluntary 15-point safety assessment on developers of driverless vehicles, a complicated approach that could prove onerous if it becomes mandatory, something the agency is considering. In September, Thune stressed that any federal framework should not “stifle innovation.”

An aide to Peters said the Transportation Department’s guidance will be considered while crafting the legislation.

Several states have already taken steps to craft their own regulations for autonomous cars, with many erring on the side of innovation over tighter security protocols. Michigan announced a comprehensive statewide framework in December that allows for the regular operation of driverless cars and permits autonomous vehicle platoons.


Correction: A previous version of this story misstated what role the DOT’s guidance will play in drafting the bill.

Morning Consult