Senators announce bipartisan deal; automakers set to clear major hurdle in self-driving car legislation

September 29, 2017

Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) and Commerce Committee Chairman Senator John Thune (R-SD) and announced a deal late Wednesday night on a new bipartisan legislation that carries major ramifications for the emerging self-driving car industry.

Call it the P-T Cruiser Bill, if you will. The Senate Commerce Committee votes on it next week.

If approved, it will mark a major step toward the widespread deployment of self-driving vehicles on public roads.

MORE: Find out about the various levels of self-driving cars

In a joint statement, the senators said, “we expect adoption of self-driving vehicle technologies will save lives, improve mobility for people with disabilities, and create new jobs.”

As with a similar bill passed by the House last month, the bill applies to passenger vehicles only, with with tractor-trailers excluded. That means separate legislation will eventually be required as self-driving truck research progresses with its own unique challenges.

The bill isn’t a free-for-all, and is aimed at controlling the pace of driverless vehicle roll-out while regulators get a feel for the balance of safety versus progress.

While the specific text of the bill is slated to be unveiled later, the House bill caps self-driving vehicle production at 25,000 vehicles in the first year, rising to 100,000 in the third, with stipulations that the cars prove themselves safer than human drivers.

Crucially, manufacturers need not get pre-approval for new technologies before testing them on public roads, which paves the way for testing in every state. Currently, states set their own self-driving vehicle guidance, resulting in an imbalance of testing locations. If the senate bill remains true to the House version, federal regulators will oversee the safety and security side of self-driving cars, while individual states will be responsible for taxation, licensing, and liability and insurance standards, which remain a hotly contested topic for the post-driver world.

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