The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee quickly approved a bill last week to clear the way for testing and deployment of automated, light-duty vehicles, after first amending it to deal with states' concerns about letting federal agencies block traditional state powers to regulate vehicle sales and operation on roadways.
Commerce Chairman John Thune, R-S.D, and member Gary Peters, D-Mich., sponsored what they call the "AV START Act," which stands for "American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies."
If the measure becomes law, that could speed development and the eventual on-road appearance of cars and light trucks that drive themselves in many situations. The House has passed a different version, so if the full Senate approves the committee bill then conferees from the two chambers would need to negotiate to settle differences in a final version.
While the amended bill made clear that states cannot interfere with federal agencies' power to regulate vehicle design, safety and performance standards, it also said that could not be construed "to prohibit a state or political subdivision of a state from maintaining, enforcing, prescribing or continuing in effect" laws and regulations on sale, distribution and service of highly automated vehicles or their components. The amendment also made clear that state liability laws would apply, for damages related to operating such vehicles.
The measure did not include provisions for heavy-duty commercial trucks as the trucking industry had sought. Some trucks using highly automated technologies are already operating on highway segments to test close "platoon" operations to improve efficiency.
Source: AASHTO Journal