Congress returned this week with autonomous vehicles (AVs) on a lengthy to-do list.
The House of Representatives passed legislation aimed at speeding the development and deployment of AVs. The measure has bipartisan support and was considered under a procedure that requires a two-thirds majority and allows no amendments. Earlier this year the bill sailed through committee on a voice vote.
In a statement announcing the scheduled vote, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, “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.”
The bill, HR 3388, is the first federal bill to pass the House addressing AVs. The measure would significantly increase the number of AVs that companies could operate on U.S. roads exempted from current safety standards. Up to 100,000 vehicles would be allowed by the third year of the bill. It also requires U.S. DOT to set new standards for AV safety.
Among the main purposes of the legislation is limiting the ability of states to set their own AV standards. Industry leaders have expressed concern that conflicting state rules could slow implementation. The bill would restrict the ability of states to set restrictions. A new federal advisory council would also be established to examine impacts on seniors, people with disabilities, rural areas, and the labor market.
The Senate also looks poised to consider legislation. Bipartisan leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee are actively working on a similar bill. Concerns from labor and safety groups slowed progress, but staff expect action this fall. Some advocates are also pressing for additional funding for U.S. DOT to address AV issues.
As momentum grows on Capitol Hill and among industry leaders for AVs, APA is working on a variety of fronts to help planners prepare for AVs and to ensure good outcomes for local communities. To help shape federal legislation and regulatory action on AVs, the APA Legislative and Policy Committee is working on a set of policy principles. Members will have a chance to provide ideas and input on AV policy development during a special pre-conference session at the upcoming Policy and Advocacy Conference, September 24–26, in Washington, D.C. There will also be other opportunities to comment on policy guidance this fall.
At the same time, APA is engaging key transportation and local government partners to identify what communities need to do now to plan effectively for AVs. This work will include practical ideas and best practices available online with special resources in the APA Research KnowledgeBase.
Later this year, APA will be releasing a “community playbook” for AVs. This playbook will be the subject of a special symposium on AVs slated for October held jointly with the National League of Cities. The symposium and the playbook will look in-depth at planning issues and impacts in areas like social equity and access, transportation network, land use, and urban design. A new PAS report is also in the works.
AVs have the potential to transform communities and mobility but also pose challenging questions for planners and local officials. APA will be working to keep members well informed about new developments ranging from policymaking in Washington to local pilot projects. In addition, APA will aim to engage members on defining how best to meet the challenge of AVs with policy, research, advocacy, and education.
Top image: A self driving car outside the San Francisco headquarters of Otto, an autonomous trucking company owned by Uber. Wikimedia Commons photo by Dllu (CC BY-SA 4.0).
About the Author
Jason Jordan is APA's director of policy.