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Bills, Bills, Bills: A Look at the AV Bills Currently Moving Through Congress

July 7, 2017 Heath Davis-Gardner, Technology and Digital Culture Editor & Robert Fischer, GTiMA President

There’s been a lot of commentary in the media lately about the fix this Congress is in: they haven’t managed to pass any bills of substance, and time is running out before they take a long recess.

Well, there’s good news, and it’s gone relatively unreported. There are over a dozen bills moving through the House and Senate, winning bipartisan support and looking like shoo-ins for passage into law.

What do these bills all have in common? They all have to do with autonomous vehicles.

Maybe part of the reason they’re not getting much coverage is the sheer number of them. What reasonable person has time to sit down and read 13 bills?

So let’s make it easier on everyone and review exactly what each of these bills is meant to do.

-The Partial Autonomous Vehicle Exemptions (PAVE) Act will increase the number of FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) exemptions the Secretary of Transportation is allowed to grant to a company — going from 2,500 to 100,000. These exemptions only are available to companies undergoing field evaluation or development “of a new motor vehicle safety feature providing a safety level at least equal to the safety level of the standard.” This means manufacturers and other companies will be able to test 100,000 vehicles per year that, for example, don’t have a steering wheel or pedals — because the safety promised by AVs is above and beyond current motor vehicles.

-The Renewing Opportunities for Autonomous Vehicle Development (ROAD) Act will expand renewals for the aforementioned exemptions to last five years and authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to extend exemption renewals upon request.

-The Disability Mobility Advisory Council Act directs the DOT Secretary to create a Disability Mobility Advisory Council, which will submit recommendations to Congress and the DOT Secretary about ways in which the federal government can advance mobility access to disabled communities. The council will be composed of representatives from the disability community as well as academics and members of the private sector.

-The Improving Mobility Access for Underserved Populations and Senior Citizens Advisory Council Act is similar to the above bill, with a council that will provide recommendations on how AVs can enhance mobility for seniors and populations underserved by traditional public transportation.

-The Highly Autonomous Vehicle Cybersecurity Advisory Council Act directs the DOT secretary to — you guessed it — create a third council, this one to advise Congress and Transportation on cybersecurity performance metrics for AV deployment, testing, and software updates. One of the areas in which the council will issue recommendations is “supply chain risk management”, so expect some prominent private-sector heavyweights on this council.

-The MORE (Maximizing Opportunities for Research and Enhancement of) AVs Act will allow manufacturers to introduce non-FMVSS compliant vehicles into interstate commerce, provided they agree not to sell the vehicle when testing is complete. It would additionally expand the law to allow equipment manufacturers and distributors to do the same. What does this translate to? It means that AV testing won’t be limited to the state where the test vehicles are made. In other words, we hope to see Tesla, GM, and whoever else is interested in a good test track here at the Wisconsin Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds.

-The INFORM (Increasing Information and Notification to Foster Openness Regarding Autonomous Vehicles to States) Act directs NHTSA to have procedures in place for ensuring that states are informed when NHTSA or DOT issue exemptions for highly autonomous vehicles that will be deployed or tested in their state. In other words, no surprises. It also formally defines AVs to allow for smoother rulemaking going forward.

-The DECAL (Designating Each Car’s Automation Level) Act requires manufacturers to place “highly visible” stickers on vehicles for sale that indicate the vehicle’s level of automation. (Only levels 3, 4 and 5 are required to bear these stickers).

-The EXEMPT (Expanding Exemptions to Enable More Public Trust) Act expands the DOT Secretary’s authority to issue FMVSS exemptions for AVs that would either A) promote public adoption and acceptance, or B) increase mobility for people with disabilities. However, manufacturers must prove to the DOT that the vehicle is as safe or safer than vehicles that comply with existing FMVSS.

-The MEMO (Managing Government Efforts to Minimize Obstruction) Act sets clear boundaries between NHTSA and the Federal Trade Commission, essentially to keep them out of one another’s lane regarding AV cybersecurity. The bill would direct the heads of NHTSA and the FTC to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would ward off overlap and duplication in their security oversight capacities.

-The SHARES (Sharing Autonomous Vehicle Records with Everyone for Safety) Act would establish another council — yep, a fourth — that will develop a framework and practices for developers of Ads to share event, incident and crash data without risking that information being disseminated publicly or having to worry about proprietary information being leaked. If enacted, the council would be required to submit recommendations to the DOT Secretary and Congress within two years.

-The AV PROMPT (Pre-Market Approval Reduces Opportunities for More People to Travel Safely) Act would prohibit the DOT secretary from establishing a pre-market approval or pre-certification process: in other words, USDOT would not have to assess the safety of any given vehicle before it is manufactured and/or sold.

-The GUARD (Guarding Automakers Against Unfair Advantages) Act is designed to prevent leaks of proprietary information. This bill would require NHTSA, by law, to to keep secret any information about collisions, cybersecurity or vehicle design provided to them by manufacturers. This ensures OEMs and Tier 1s will be able to do all the testing they want without bad press coming (for example) from one failed test out of hundreds.

One more. Ready? It’s a good one.

-The LEAD’R (Let NHTSA Enforce Autonomous Vehicle Driving Regulations) Act would “establish NHTSA as the sole regulatory authority” for regulating AVs and expressly prohibits other government entities from prescribing motor vehicle safety standards for AVs. However, it would allow states and their political subdivisions to prescribe safety standards for AVs and AV components that the state purchases for its own use.

Whew. That’s a lot to chew on, right?

Clearly, the legal landscape for AVs is on its way out of is coming into view for lawmakers and federal government officials. While we may not necessarily think every one of these bills is essential, we at the WIPG applaud Congress for actually working together toward something constructive. And we’re excited about the prospects for more testing and for allowing vehicles to go interstate for testing.

Wisconsin features some of the craziest weather swings in the nation, as well as a company that’s been in the LiDAR/geospatial mapping business for quite some time now along with great test tracks for the Proving Ground. We hope faraway manufacturers take note and decide to take their 100,000 prototypes for a spin on our courses. Especially as the winter rolls around, we expect manufacturers will want to take a look at how their prototypes perform in our snowy and icy season.

So come on down, Tier 1s and OEMs! The federal government wants you to test, and we have just the right lab in which you can carry out your previously-forbidden experiments.

(For those interested in ensuring elements of these bills are passed, or for people with concerns about one or two of these points, we strongly suggest contacting your Senators and Congressmen to give your take on this legislation.)

Heath Davis-Gardner is a professional writer and editor who currently serves as Strategic Communications Specialist at Mandli Communications.