Autonomous Vehicles

Last Parts of Staff Draft Bill on Autonomous Vehicles Expected This Week, Aides Say

New sections will focus on cybersecurity and consumer education, among other elements

An Uber self-driving car drives down 5th Street on March 28, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif. The last sections of a staff draft bill to regulate self-driving cars, including language around cybersecurity guidelines, are set to be released this week, according to congressional aides familiar with the negotiations, following months of bipartisan, bicameral talks about the highly anticipated legislative issue. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The last sections of a staff draft bill to regulate self-driving cars, including language around cybersecurity guidelines, are set to be released this week, according to congressional aides familiar with the negotiations, following months of bipartisan, bicameral talks about the highly anticipated legislative issue.

The news comes after the House Energy and Commerce consumer protection subcommittee held a hearing today about the challenges and benefits of autonomous vehicles, where a mix of consumer advocates, industry folks and city officials testified. Behind the scenes, both House and Senate aides say staff have been working to release the final components of an autonomous vehicle bill designed to tackle consumer education, trucks, crash data, agency resources, cybersecurity and dual-use vehicles. And one senior House aide familiar with the talks said there will be seven new sections, with the additional provisions including new elements as well as language from previous bills.

So far, committee staff have already distributed six sections for the staff draft, including pieces on safety standards, pre-emption of state laws and exemptions. The already released sections largely incorporate language similar to that featured in the House’s SELF DRIVE Act (H.R.3388) and the Senate’s AV START Act (S.1885), according to copies of the language seen by Morning Consult. While both of those bills, introduced in 2017, failed to become law at the end of the previous Congress in 2018, leaders in the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee are now working on a bipartisan and bicameral basis to draft new legislation.

A spokesman for House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said in a statement that the negotiations so far have been a “good faith effort” and that the committee is continuing to collect feedback from stakeholders, while Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who chairs the committee’s consumer protection panel, told reporters after the hearing that she expects to see new sections “very soon.” A Schakowsky aide also told reporters there will be a minimum of five new sections. The Senate Commerce Committee alone had received more than 100 letters from industry, state and local governments and consumer advocates, Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said during a hearing about self-driving cars in November.

The senior House aide said that by having the negotiations be both bicameral and bipartisan, some of the issues that arose with the 2017-18 effort — which stalled in the Senate after several Democrats raised concerns about pre-emption, cybersecurity and consumer privacy — can be avoided.

“We should pass legislation that establishes safety standards and regulations for the gradual deployment of self-driving cars,” Pallone said in his opening remarks at today’s hearing. “The legislation should facilitate the collection and reporting of vital crash and incident data and protect Americans’ right to access the courts for the inevitable incidents related to self-driving cars.”

In an interview with Morning Consult during the hearing, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said she was “encouraged” by the bipartisan support she’s seeing for autonomous vehicle legislation from the panel.

“This hearing is an important step for the members to have even more awareness and to be educated on the issue and the importance of Congress acting,” she said.

Jamie Boone, vice president of government affairs at the Consumer Technology Association, said in an interview ahead of the hearing that she thinks cybersecurity will be “the biggest” and “most consequential topic” of the bill for industry stakeholders who are eagerly awaiting draft language around requirements.

Boone, whose organization was one of the handful of Washington stakeholders who have submitted their feedback to the relevant committees about the staff draft, said that it’s difficult to fully understand how lawmakers are approaching the issue this go-around without having a complete legislative draft to consider.

“We obviously can’t start prioritizing what is most important until we have all of the pieces of what we’re dealing with,” Boone said. “It’s a little bit like operating half in the dark.”

Despite bipartisan support for autonomous vehicle legislation during the hearing, Schakowsky told reporters after the event that she “doesn’t feel this total need for urgency” to pass a bill in 2020, and that it’s important “to get it right,” especially given safety concerns with the vehicles.

“All of the promise that was listed, I agree with,” Schakowsky said. “But we need to get it right, and that’s what we’re in the business of doing right now.”

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