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Last Chance for the 115th: Senate Should Pass AV START Act

This June here at Open Market we’ll be looking at what the 115th Congress, which began January 3, 2017 and runs through January 3, 2019, has accomplished so far and what might still be achieved for limited government and free markets before it’s over. Read more about the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s recommendations for legislative reform here

Back when CEI published “Free to Prosper: A Pro-Growth Agenda for the 115th Congress” at the end of 2016, we wrote that “[t]o better promote high-value, low-cost mobility, Congress should … remove government barriers to competition and innovation in the transportation sector.” Passing reasonable automated vehicle guidelines would be a strong step in that direction.

Last month, I debunked a series of claims made by five Democratic senators holding up the bipartisan AV START Act from floor consideration. The AV START Act, the companion bill to the unanimously passed SELF DRIVE Act in the House, would establish the first national regulatory framework for highly automated vehicles—self-driving cars.

The future of the AV START Act is uncertain. If it fails to pass in the coming months, members of Congress will be forced to start from scratch, further delaying the start of the likely decade-plus work that will be necessary to fully integrate self-driving cars into the nation’s automotive safety regulatory regime.

Fortunately, the Senate has some must-pass items on its plate that could serve as a legislative vehicle for the AV START Act. The most obvious and appealing is the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, which is one of Senate leadership’s priorities and is also managed by the same committee as the AV START Act, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-SD) and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL) could include the AV START Act in their manager’s amendment to the AV START Act. But Senate leadership is reportedly concerned that, due to the FAA bill’s tax title, senators may attempt to light up the bill with unrelated tax code provisions. If this were to happen, allowing votes on all of those tax code amendments could eat up valuable floor time for considering other important bills and agency nominees.

As I have noted for years, any unnecessary delay or cost increase of deploying far safer vehicles translates to more dead bodies on the highway. The AV START Act isn’t perfect, but it’s an important first step. The Senate should move quickly to bring it to a floor vote by any appropriate legislative vehicle.