Just when everyone had almost given up hope of getting legislators in the capital of our hyper-polarized nation to agree on a new set of rules for self-driving cars, Congress seems ready to try again.
Stakeholders in the autonomous vehicle industry had mainly given up the hope of getting something done this year, after the failure of legislation last year and the lack of action in the following months. But a two-part contingent in both the Senate and the House has held five meetings in recent weeks to see if they can close a deal.
The new bill is written with input from both chambers in the hope of preventing last year's outages. At the end of 2017, the then-owned house approved the SELF DRIVE law, which would speed up the approval of self-driving cars and crack states by setting performance standards.
But a complementary bill in the Senate, AV START, failed after Democrats raised objections that it was not doing enough to address security concerns. The hope is that with Democrats who are now in control of the House, a bill can be drafted from the start to address these concerns.
Of course, the new bill may encounter the same headwind as the old one. Legislators at the end of last year gave a push at the last minute by adjusting the bill to remove many of the concerns of Democratic members, but the bill has still not succeeded. The latest version would have instructed federal regulators to collect crash information for so-called Level 2 semi-autonomous systems such as Tesla's Autopilot and GM's Super Cruise.
This legislation also has the power to determine what these vehicles will look like in the future, allowing car manufacturers to make vehicles without steering wheels, gas and brake pedals, as long as the Ministry of Transport exempts them from the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).
It is unclear how necessary this is. The US Department of Transportation finds itself in the midst of regulatory changes that allow the sale of autonomous vehicles that do not comply with current FMVSS. Changing these rules would pave the way for companies such as Alphabet's Waymo, Ford and General Motors to release hundreds of thousands of fully automated vehicles on public roads.
Despite this new glimpse of life, the AV industry has ceased its efforts mainly in Washington. According to Politics, lobbying non-driver cars dropped 35 percent between the end of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. Legislative barriers in Washington are hardly the biggest problem for AV operators, many of whom face technical challenges and decreasing expectations about the willingness to self-drive cars.