Automated vehicle legislation in motion at federal level

Suzanne Murtha | 08 Aug 2017 | Comments

You’ve read the news about fast-moving federal legislation regarding mandates for automated vehicles (AV). Let’s take a moment to outline what’s currently underway and dig a little deeper into the Designating Each Car’s Automation Level Act, or DECAL Act, and what it means to you as an Infrastructure Owner or Operator (IOO).

When? I’m an IOO, do I have to act today?

To begin, the legislation we describe in detail below is being considered by the US House of Representatives. The US Senate is also working on their own version of AV-related bills, so as fast-moving as these bills are, they still need to clear the House and the Senate. It is reasonable to think that some version of AV-related federal legislation won’t clear both chambers immediately and the Senate bill(s) will be introduced sometime in September 2017.

What exactly is this? 

On July 27 in a 54-0 vote, the House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously passed the DECAL Act (HR 3388), a bill related to automated vehicles. We haven’t seen the Senate version yet, and the House bill was not approved by the full House. Here are some key considerations for the DECAL Act:

  • Congress clearly wants the federal government to take the lead on any public policy regarding automated vehicles.
  • Congress also wants to define the role of states and IOOs, including:
    • Vehicle registration
    • Licensing
    • Driver education and training
    • Insurance
    • Law enforcement
    • Crash investigations 
    • Safety and emissions inspections
    • Congestion management of vehicles on the street
    • IOOs may prescribe higher performance standards than federal
  • The bill would:
    • Require cybersecurity plans and points of contact from all manufacturers of any vehicle with any automation.
    • Require privacy protection plans and points of contact from all manufacturers of any vehicle with any automation.
    • Increase the annual number of vehicles that may be exempted from certain regulatory standards in order to facilitate the development of automated vehicles. 
    • Establish through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) a Highly Automated Vehicle Information Sharing Advisory Council to make recommendations regarding the development of a framework that allows manufacturers of highly automated vehicles to share information related to testing or deployment events on public streets.

So, what does this mean to you as an IOO?

  • Within a few months, if you’re in one of the 22 states with laws or regulations related to automated vehicles, those laws may soon be inapplicable.
  • The DECAL Act, as it stands, and even previous versions and the NHTSA AV guidance document, do spell out specific roles for IOOs. 
  • It’s clear that no matter how the legislative process turns out, Congress and the federal government are under pressure to manage automated vehicle-related rules. Plan for that. Plan to adjust your policies to support a stronger federal role in AV rollouts. 
  • Plan for managing data you will be receiving from connected vehicles and automated vehicles. Ensure that your data polices are compliant with privacy and security requirements laid out in the DECAL Act. These requirements are reasonable and will probably be carried forward in other versions of whatever bill is passed.

The federal government is under pressure to consolidate regulations and legislation that relate to automated vehicles. As manufacturers get closer to higher levels of automation, they need vehicles to be able to move through jurisdictions without major differences in requirements for safety, certifications and access to roadways. Congress and NHTSA have both begun to address these concerns. 

Given the overwhelming majority by which this bill was introduced to House, and our understanding of the efforts of organizations lobbying to promote federal jurisdiction, it is likely that we’ll see some closure on this issue before year-end. 

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