CEI Offers Recommendations to Improve Senate’s AV START Act

driverless car stock

Today, CEI submitted comments on the Senate Commerce Committee’s staff draft of the American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act. The draft legislation is another welcome early step from the federal government on self-driving vehicles, which have the potential to greatly improve safety and mobility. CEI recently discussed the House-passed SELF DRIVE Act and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s updated guidance on automated driving systems.

The Senate’s AV START Act should not prove controversial, save one provision. CEI believes three small changes could be made to improve the bill prior to its introduction. First, and the most controversial with the Teamsters union and Democratic senators, is allowing the bill to cover highly automated heavy trucks just as it does cars. The Teamsters fear automated technology will eliminate their members’ jobs. That may occur decades in the future when the technology is perfected and widely deployed, but when or even if this will occur remains unknown. And do senators really want to be on the record prioritizing the financial interests of unions over saving lives?

Second, we supported new language that would streamline the safety regulation exemption cap provision for automated vehicles. Since existing federal auto safety regulations will take years to update, manufacturers will need to seek exemptions from the Department of Transportation in order to deploy their self-driving vehicles before the formal regulatory update is completed. The bill would raise the annual exemption cap from 2,500 to 100,000 vehicles over a three-year period. We recommended that the phase-in be eliminated and the cap be immediately raised to 100,000 vehicles per year. The phase-in provides no safety benefits, as the exemption process requiring Department approval remains the same.

Third, we urged the Commerce Committee to eliminate the cybersecurity section in its entirety. Developers are well aware of these risks and are acting accordingly. They understand that failure to do so would present large litigation risks. Codifying the development of a “cybersecurity plan” in statute at best will mandate a practice that is already occurring voluntarily, allowing the Senate to claim credit for something the market is already delivering. As the cybersecurity provision addresses no market failure, it has no practical justification for remaining in the bill.

The full letter is below:

On behalf of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), thank you for the opportunity to comment on the staff working draft of the American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies Act (AV START Act). CEI is a nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy research organization that focuses on regulatory policy from a pro-market outlook. Since 2012, CEI has been active in discussions across the country on automated road vehicles and has worked with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Congress, state legislatures, and the private sector in developing public policy frameworks for these emerging technologies.

CEI believes most of the proposed language in the draft AV START Act represents a positive step forward toward the eventual integration of automated driving systems into the vehicle fleet. Our comments will focus on the areas that we believe could be improved.

Heavy Trucks. Automation has great potential to transform American freight transportation with respect to both efficiency and safety. The trucking industry is currently investigating connected and automation technologies at SAE level 2 for platooning purposes, the primary benefit being reduced fuel consumption. However, higher levels of automation in trucking will further increase efficiency while reducing the harmful impact of driver error. Further, if heavy trucks were fully automated, most if not all of the functions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration could be abolished. Concerns about hypothetical job losses as computers eventually replace drivers in the coming decades should not trump the large potential safety improvements that could result from an automated heavy truck fleet.

  • Recommendation 1: Eliminate the bracketed text on page 3 for the definition of “highly automated vehicle” that would exclude vehicles in excess of 10,000 pounds from the provisions of this legislation.

  • Recommendation 2: Eliminate the bracketed Section 16 on pages 28 and 29 that would exclude vehicles in excess of 10,000 pounds from the provisions of this legislation.

Highly Automated Vehicles Exemptions. Prior to the promulgation of new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) that account for highly automated vehicles, exemptions from FMVSS may be critical to bringing the first generation of highly automated vehicles to market and for consumers to benefit from the safety and mobility benefits of this technology. The draft AV START Act proposes to increase the current annual exemption cap from 2,500 vehicles to 100,000 vehicles. However, it also requires a three-year phase-in period to reach the new 100,000 vehicle exemption cap, which may hinder the deployment of life-saving technology while providing no meaningful safety regulatory benefit.

  • Recommendation: Paragraph (B) on page 10 should be replaced by new paragraph (B) to read: “(B) the vehicle is a highly automated vehicle and the exemption is for not more than 100,000 vehicles to be sold or introduced into interstate commerce in the United States.

Cybersecurity. Cybersecurity in automobiles has been a growing concern. Current vehicles have been demonstrated to be vulnerable to relatively unsophisticated cyberattacks owing to current easy access to a vehicle’s CAN bus. Developers of driving automation systems are well aware of the vulnerabilities in the existing manually driven vehicle fleet and are working to address them in their future production vehicles. It is highly unlikely that automated vehicle developers will release their vehicles to consumers without appropriate cybersecurity protections. Likewise, it is highly unlikely that requiring in statute that manufacturers produce a federally dictated “cybersecurity plan” will produce any benefits. In short, the AV START Act draft proposes to address a market failure where none exists.

  • Recommendation: Strike Section 15 on pages 26 through 28 in its entirety.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the draft AV START Act and we look forward to working with the Committee on this important legislation.