elf-driving car bill faces tough road ahead

A bipartisan pair of senators are working to reintroduce legislation for federal regulations on self-driving cars, an effort that has long stalled on Capitol Hill.

The new drive though will need to overcome tough obstacles from Democrats and consumer groups who want major changes to the bill.

Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters this week that he is looking to reintroduce the AV START Act soon.

Thune said that he expects to reintroduce this legislation in the same “version that came out of the [Senate] Commerce Committee last Congress, which was the most recent version that everybody agreed upon that we were trying to make additional changes to try and get it across the finish line.”

A spokesperson for Thune later told The Hill that while there is no timeline for the bill, “staff-level conversations between the House and Senate are ongoing.”

Thune said that Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) will be “taking the lead” on the bill with him. Thune and Peters were the two main sponsors of the bill in the last Congress, when Thune was chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and Peters the ranking member.

What the bill would do: The legislation would put in place federal regulations and preempt individual states from creating their own laws around self-driving cars, a problem that could make it more difficult for vehicles to travel between states.

The bill’s language during the last Congress included cyber provisions meant to protect the vehicles from being hacked, such as ensuring the security of the supply chain for vehicle parts. That also included a provision requiring all autonomous vehicle manufacturers to develop and execute a plan for reducing cyber vulnerabilities.

Will this time be different? It is an open question if Thune and Peters can overcome the same challenges that blocked legislation in the past, in particular objections from Senate Democrats that the language on consumer safety and cybersecurity was not strong enough.

A group of Democrats, including Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who blocked the bill from being passed by unanimous consent last year seem prepared to dig in their heels again this Congress.