US House passes self-driving vehicles legislation

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October 16, 2017
A 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan, equipped with self-driving equipment from Google subsidiary Waymo, drives along a city street. Federal legislation approved in the House would relax safety rules for test vehicles, allowing automakers to speed development of autonomous technologies.

On Sept. 7, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3388, the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act (SELF DRIVE Act), a series of rules that will make it easier for automakers to test autonomous vehicles on public roads. The legislation is being considered by Senate committees, and analysts expect it to pass before the end of the year.

The bill would allow automakers to obtain exemptions from some safety regulations for 25,000 vehicles in the first year of the program, rising to 100,000 vehicles per year within three years.

“Self-driving vehicles stand to make our transportation system safer and more efficient. Advancing this technology to road-ready requires government policy that encourages continued testing and development,” House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-California, said. “This formula is the foundation for what makes America the most innovative country in the world.”

Several states and municipalities have approved rules to allow automakers to test autonomous cars on public roads, and several local groups are relaxing rules to encourage research and development spending by making it easier to test self-driving vehicles.

The federal rules will allow automakers to put cars and trucks on the road without going through rigorous pre-approval steps with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The companies will still have to submit safety reports, and they must demonstrate that the self-driving cars are at least as safe as traditional vehicles. The legislation also mandates cybersecurity standards to protect autonomous vehicles from potential hackers.

In the Senate, lawmakers reached an agreement in late September to support similar legislation, according to The Hill.

That legislation was set for consideration in October. If approved, a House/Senate conference committee would be called to resolve any differences between the bills.

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California considers ban on non-electric vehicles

Following news that China, France, and the United Kingdom are pursuing long-term legislation that would eventually ban internal combustion engines from public roads, California is considering similar legislation, the head of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) told Bloomberg News.

“I’ve gotten messages from the governor asking, ‘Why haven’t we done something already?’” CARB Chairman Mary Nichols said, referring to China’s planned phase-out of fossil-fuel vehicle sales. “The governor has certainly indicated an interest in why China can do this and not California.”

Regulators have not drafted rules that would ban gasoline-, diesel-, or natural-gas-powered vehicles, but such regulations could come if California follows the lead of China and other countries. China has not yet set a target date for banning fossil fuel vehicles, but France and the U.K. have targeted 2040.

As the most populous state in the nation, California sets more-stringent vehicle emissions rules than the federal government, and several other states match its regulations. So, a fossil-fuel-vehicle ban from California could impact a huge portion of U.S. vehicle sales. www.arb.ca.gov