By Arthur Harrington, Attorney Godfrey & Kahn

It is important to note that the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committees have unveiled some discussion drafts for autonomous vehicle (AV) legislation. The drafts of these legislations provide some very significant policy issues for consideration. These policy issues include the following:

  • Whether AVs will be exempt from federal motor vehicle safety standards. Currently, these standards are difficult to apply to AVs because they focus on the human driving element of the vehicle. The proposed application process for exemption from these standards include detailed information to be provided to the Secretary of Transportation and the requirement for the Secretary to either deny or approve exemption applications for AVs from the safety standards within 80 days of receiving an application from the manufacturer.
  • Motor vehicle testing and evaluation. The draft bills would exempt vehicles from manufacturing non-compliant motor vehicles and equipment. The purposes for testing, evaluating and demonstrating AV systems. Under these new proposed standards, the manufacturer must agree not to sell or lease the test vehicle for compensation. The purpose is simply to provide exemptions for testing.
  • Highly Automated Vehicle Advisory Committee. The discussion drafts under consideration by the respective House and Senate Committees would create a new Advisory Council comprised of representatives from business, academia, local and state governments, consumer groups, engineering organizations, organized labor, disability organizations and others. The proposed newly created council would be responsible for studying issues relating to AVs including most importantly the advancement of mobility access, cyber security, information sharing as well as other important issues associated with AV development.

The fact that both Committees are actually working on legislation dealing with AVs is notable. There is a significant need for federal legislation in this area and this development in the House and Senate Committees should be carefully monitored for potential future legislative efforts.

Recent Federal Agency Guidance Involving Autonomous Vehicles

On Jan. 8, 2020, the White House announced a new joint guidance issued by the National Science and Technology Council and the U.S. Department of Transportation entitled “Ensuring American Leadership in Automated Vehicle Technologies”.

This policy announcement is the strongest evidence to date that the current administration desires to have the United States take a leadership role in the advancement of the development of autonomous vehicles. In particular, this new guidance document recognized the need for collaboration by all stakeholders with the federal government providing oversight to ensure safety, open markets and the protection of the public’s interest in this emerging field.

The Guidance establishes three core interests consisting of 10 sub-areas designed to ensure the attainment of these federal goals for promoting the advancement of autonomous vehicles in this United States. These core interests and respective sub- areas outlined in the Guidance include the following:

  • Protect Users and Communities
    • Prioritize Safety
    • Emphasize Security and Cybersecurity
    • Ensure Privacy and Data Security
    • Enhance Mobility and Accessibility
  • Promote Efficient Markets
    • Remain Technology Neutral
    • Protect American Innovation and Creativity
    • Modernize Regulations
  • Facilitate Coordinated Efforts
    • Promote Consistent Standards and Policies
    • Ensure a consistent Federal Approach
    • Ensure Transportation System-Level effects.

While this is guidance and is not legally binding, this 37 page report is required reading for stakeholders interested in ensuring the formation of local and state policies focused on the regulation of Autonomous Vehicles.

Recent Announcement of U.S. Transportation Secretary in Safety Initiatives.

On Jan.15, 2020, Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced new initiatives to improve safety on highways and roads in the United States.

The Secretary announced the next phase of the Partnership for Analytics Research in Traffic Safety program. This new phase of this partnership, which includes almost 70% of the U.S. auto market, will collect data on additional advanced driver- assistance systems (ADAS) to assist researchers in assessing the safety effectiveness of these systems.

In addition, the Secretary announced that the USDOT is endorsing a standardized listing of recommended ADAS terminology, which efforts will be led by the National Safety Council, AAA, Consumer Reports and J.D. Power.

Hawaii Introduces New Legislation for Testing AVs.

A new bill has been introduced in Hawaii that requires the Director of Transportation in that State to establish a new program for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads in that State. It is notable that the bill would preempt counties from regulating the testing of autonomous vehicles that is not covered by state regulation for AV testing. This legislation should be followed closely by interests groups supporting the safe testing of AVs on public roadways.

New Proposed Uniform Standards Announced to Pavement Marking.

The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices recently announced new proposed standard for the width of pavement stripping on highways. These new proposed standards are designed to enhance the development of automated driving systems and are focused on the following three areas for pavement markings: uniformity, quality and maintenance.