Congress will try again in 2021 on self-driving car reform

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress will try again in 2021 to try to approve long-stalled reforms to speed the adoption of self-driving cars, a key Democratic lawmaker said Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: A self driving Volvo vehicle, purchased by Uber, moves through an intersection in Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S., December 1, 2017. Photo taken on December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Natalie Behring

U.S. lawmakers have been divided for years over how to reform regulations governing self-driving cars and what consumer and legal protections should be included.

In 2017, the House of Representatives passed legislation to speed the adoption of self-driving cars and bar states from setting performance standards, but the legislation stalled.

On Wednesday, Republican Representative Bob Latta reintroduced legislation on self-driving car reforms. “Congress must act to create a national framework that provides developers certainty and a clear path to deployment,” Latta said.

Automakers are eager to deploy commercial robotaxi fleets without human controls, but none are expected until 2021 at the earliest.

Representative Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, said Latta’s bill will not be approved this year. She said she agreed “urgent action” is needed and received commitment from key Democratic leaders “that autonomous vehicle legislation will be a priority and that they will work to move it early in the new year through the Energy and Commerce Committee.”

Automakers must currently meet nearly 75 auto safety standards for self-driving cars, many of them written under the assumption that a licensed driver is in command of the vehicle using traditional controls.

The Center for Auto Safety advocacy group said Latta’s bill “contains no regulatory or testing requirements to improve public confidence in the long-term safety of driverless vehicles.”

California requires companies testing self-driving cars to make public all crashes on public roads. Other states do not require such disclosures.

Self-driving cares suffered a major setback after the March 2018 death of a pedestrian in a crash with an Uber test vehicle, the first attributed to a self-driving car. The National Transportation Safety Board said in the Uber crash review that U.S. regulators should make self-driving vehicle safety assessments mandatory and ensure automated vehicles have appropriate safeguards.

Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis