Two U.S. senators make new push to advance self-driving cars

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WASHINGTON – Two US senators are working on legislation to allow automakers to deploy tens of thousands of self-driving vehicles on US roads ahead of a two-party law in China, a major reform that could accelerate the commercial use of automated vehicles.

Senators Gary Peters, a Democrat, and John Thune, a Republican, have circulated a design change seen by Reuters that would empower the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to initially release 15,000 self-driving vehicles per manufacturer. setting safety standards written with human motivation in mind. The number would rise to 80,000 within three years.

The pair hope to get Senate Committee approval for their amendment on Wednesday, when the panel passes a bill to provide $ 100 billion in funding for scientific and technological research and development amid concerns about preserving the U.S. competitiveness. with China.

The amendment would also allow self-driving companies to disable human driving controls in vehicles when they are fully self-driving.

The amendment comes because concerns are growing about a series of accidents involving Tesla Inc’s driver assistance system Autopilot, which handles some driving tasks but does not make a vehicle autonomous.

The bill states that “the United States is at risk of losing its technological leadership in the autonomous auto industry, which is a global market opportunity worth an estimated $ 8 trillion, unless it takes policies to protect its leadership from the People’s Republic of China. and other competitors. “

Peters, who chairs a subcommittee that oversees the NHTSA, said in a statement that the amendment “will ensure that innovation and testing around autonomous vehicles can continue to be done safely under the watchful eye of the Department of Transportation.”

Thune and Peters have been working for four years to get congressional approval to make the deployment of self-driving vehicles easier.

“Providing the automotive industry with the tools they need to safely test and deploy automated vehicles across the country will create thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars in investment, not to mention the numerous security benefits that AVs can provide, ”Thune said in a statement.

But the effort has met with opposition from some, including the American Association for Justice, which represents litigation attorneys, who argue that the bill does not provide sufficient safeguards to protect consumer rights.

Any bill “must contain language that preserves the rights of Americans in their current form,” the association told senators in a letter seen by Reuters. “Having the right to take a case to a public court encourages companies to act in the interests of public safety, and nowhere is this more important than in an emerging market where the technology is new and largely untested.”

After four years, manufacturers could ask the NHTSA to extend the exemptions to above 80,000.

General Motors Co, Alphabet Inc’s self-driving unit Waymo, and other automakers have for years urged Congress to make changes to facilitate deployment of self-driving cars on U.S. roads. Current law allows NHTSA to exempt up to 2,500 vehicles per manufacturer.

Thune said opponents “need to understand that our amendment is about strengthening US technology leadership to ensure we stay ahead of China in the development, production and deployment of AVs.”