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March 20, 2019 9:45 AM, EDT

House Republicans Push for Action on Self-Driving Vehicles Bill

Waymo autonomous vehicle sensor Caitlin O'Hara/Bloomberg News

Three Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are ready to re-legislate on the technology for self-driving vehicles. And, to do so, they are asking the chamber’s new Democratic leadership to proceed with a bill.

Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Greg Walden of Oregon was joined by his colleagues, Reps. Bob Latta of Ohio and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, in calling on committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) to set up the consideration of a comprehensive bill on self-driving technology.

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“We are at a critical moment in the development of self-driving technology. We have the opportunity to support life-saving technology, create mobility benefits for many communities, and support U.S. jobs and innovation against foreign competition,” the trio of Republicans wrote on March 13. “We have outdated standards and unnecessary barriers, which are slowing the development and deployment of self-driving technology.”

The Republican lawmakers pointed to the technology’s potential to enhance safety on the roadways through automation designed to reduce driver error. Also, such vehicles could likely be utilized to assist the elderly and people with disabilities to access convenience stores or medical facilities. And establishing the country as a leader in the technology’s development could lead to myriad economic benefits, they added. Latta is ranking member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, and McMorris Rodgers is ranking member of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee.

The committee’s Democratic leadership has not issued an update on the legislation’s consideration.

A self-driving car bill easily advanced in the House last year, but failed to reach the Senate floor amid disputes over key safety provisions. The bill ended its run upon the congressional session’s adjournment.

Last month, Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), who had championed the bill in the previous congressional session, said he was aiming to restart talks on a similar bill.

Mitch Bainwol

Mitch Bainwol. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

Amid the industry’s recent achievements in developing the technology, federal regulators have issued a series of guidelines. In the fall, the U.S. Department of Transportation emphasized that safety, technology neutrality, consistent regulations and a proactive preparation for automation were key aspects of updated guidance.

Additionally, speaking to reporters March 11, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao indicated there was “very good news” in President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget proposal regarding autonomous technology. According to the proposal, DOT “will continue efforts in 2020 to enable the safe testing and integration of autonomous vehicles within the nation’s transportation systems by reducing regulatory barriers and conducting research.”

Meanwhile, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers urged federal lawmakers to craft autonomous policy. Mitch Bainwol, president of the alliance, wrote last month, “Many of the rules that currently govern the operation of a motor vehicle were created at a time when a self-driving vehicle was a science-fiction fantasy, rather than a technological breakthrough on our doorstep.”

Meanwhile, groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and companies such as Amazon.com Inc., Waymo and Uber also press Congress to legislate on provisions that would govern autonomous vehicles.