A major milestone on the road to establishing a regulatory framework for highly automated vehicles (“HAVs”) was reached earlier this week with the passage of the first significant legislation on the subject by the House of Representatives. The SELF DRIVE Act (short for “Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution”), which advanced out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on a unanimous vote and received similar “voice” approval in the full House, highlights the substantial bipartisan interest in the potential of HAVs to revolutionize safety and mobility on the nation’s roadways. As described in greater detail below, the SELF DRIVE Act includes a number of provisions sought by HAV stakeholders to facilitate vehicle testing and development and would direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) to intensify its regulatory efforts in this area. The K&L Gates CarTech team and the authors of this alert are available to answer specific questions regarding this legislation and to assist clients on vehicle technology issues more generally.
The SELF DRIVE Act reflects and responds to a number of issues raised by the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy (“FAVP”) released by NHTSA late last year. That document, which is currently under review by the Trump administration, identified a wide range of regulatory considerations informing the development and commercialization of HAV technology. It also introduced a voluntary safety assessment process for HAV systems. In many ways, the SELF DRIVE Act can be viewed as building on the foundation provided by the FAVP, particularly with respect to issues such as clarifying federal and state regulatory responsibilities for HAVs and expanding pathways for research and development.
Of course, the House is just one part of the equation when it comes to seeing a regulatory framework for HAVs enacted into law. Senators John Thune (R-SD), Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Gary Peters (D-MI) — all members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation — have been working on companion legislation that may align with the SELF DRIVE Act in some respects and diverge in others. One area of potential variation is the extent to which the forthcoming Senate bill will address commercial vehicles, which fall outside of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s jurisdiction and thus were not addressed by the SELF DRIVE Act. The Senate Commerce Committee will convene a hearing on that issue next week. There is also speculation that next week could also see further details emerge from Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on the Trump administration’s perspective on HAVs. These developments in the Senate and the administration will inform the prospects for the policies reflected in the SELF DRIVE Act and the implications for HAV stakeholders.
Key provisions of the SELF DRIVE Act are as follows: