WASHINGTON -- Bruised by the inability to pass legislation regulating the testing and deployment of self-driving cars despite overwhelming support, House Democrats in the new Congress will first iron out any differences with Senate colleagues before issuing a new proposal, Rep. Debbie Dingell said.
"We will not reintroduce it immediately in the House," she told Automotive News in her office immediately after Thursday's vote on a funding bill that would have prevented a government shutdown.
Dingell, D-Mich., said Rep. Frank Pallone, who will rise to chairmanship of the Energy & Commerce Committee when Democrats take control of the House, and Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, who headed the digital commerce subcommittee in the current session, have agreed the best strategy is to build consensus in the Senate so both chambers can deliberate on the same bill.
"We're going to have to figure out the common ground," she said.
Last year, the House unanimously approved the SELF DRIVE Act. But a companion piece of legislation, the AV START Act, stalled in the Senate for 14 months after clearing the Commerce Committee. The bills attempted to set rules of the road for development and deployment of self-driving cars. They included language to preempt states from setting autonomous vehicle design, construction and performance standards during testing, as well as grant auto and tech companies tens of thousands of exemptions from existing motor vehicle safety standards.
Safety group concerns
Safety groups complained that the bills did not hold autonomous vehicles to equivalent levels of safety as current standards. A handful of Senate Democrats agreed and were able to block the bill from being approved through an expedited process. Parliamentary maneuvers by supporters to tack the legislation on other must-pass bills ultimately failed.
There is angst in auto industry circles that it may be even more difficult to reach agreement on self-driving cars next year with Democrats in charge of the House.
Safety advocates said they welcome the chance to try again at the autonomous vehicle legislation.
“Unfortunately, the AV START Act put industry’s economic priorities above public safety. Next year we will start over to make sure a new bill addresses the concerns of consumers and includes minimum performance standards, adequate funding and effective authority for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.” Joan Claybrook, former administrator of NHTSA and President Emeritus of Public Citizen, said in a statement.