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To Promote Highway Safety and Innovation, Senate Must Pass AV START Act

It has now been over a year since the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bipartisan SELF DRIVE Act by voice vote. Its companion bill, the Senate’s AV START Act, was passed out of the Commerce Committee on a unanimous vote nearly 10 months ago. Since then, the Senate has failed to bring it to a floor vote.

CEI urges Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) to prioritize the passage of the AV START Act. This bill represents the first step to harmonize highly automated vehicle safety regulation across the country. Failure to bring it to a floor vote this Congress means the U.S. will continue to suffer from a confusing patchwork of state-based regulation. This failure would likely lead some research and development to migrate overseas in search of superior regulatory environments.

Right now, only a handful of senators are opposed to the AV START Act. Some, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the leading opponent of the bill, will likely never change their uneasy minds on the prospect of safer, superior, computer-directed driving. Rather than attempting to placate the unreachable, what Leaders McConnell and Schumer should keep in mind are the numbers 37,461 and 94. The former is the number of people who died on American roads in 2016 and the latter is the percentage of total crashes caused primarily by human error or misbehavior, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

CEI has long advocated for bringing highly automated vehicles into the national vehicle safety regulatory framework. As we noted back in our 2014 whitepaper, “If automated vehicles are demonstrated to be significantly safer than manually driven vehicles, any misstep, convoluted law, or burdensome rule that leads to unnecessary higher costs or delays translates to increased injury and death.”

Automated driving system technology represents the most promising method of reducing the ongoing carnage on our roads, as well as providing an unprecedented level of personal mobility to the disabled, elderly, and other traditional mobility-disadvantaged populations. Failure to hold a vote on the AV START Act is a vote for the status quo, and that should be unacceptable.