The Jetsons’ world of driverless cars may someday be a reality and the technology industry is laser-focused on getting us there sooner rather than later. As private industry innovates, decision-makers in Washington are grappling with how best to regulate the autonomous vehicle (AV) landscape while retaining an emphasis on both safety and innovation.
To spur conversation and help stakeholders understand the tasks ahead, 3M convened an event in Washington titled “Paving the Way for the Connected Roads of Tomorrow.” The morning brought together Chairman John Thune (R-SD) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) from the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, the Senate Committee with jurisdiction over automated-vehicle legislation.
In his remarks, Senator Thune referenced H.R. 3388, the SELF DRIVE Act, a House Energy and Commerce Committee bill that sets a number of governing regulations and minimum safety standards as they relate to autonomous vehicles. The U.S. House Committee voted 54-0 on July 27 to advance the legislation to the House floor. The Senate, meanwhile, has released a set of bipartisan principles for legislating self-driving vehicles, which prioritize safety, continue to promote innovation, and reinforce separate federal and state roles in regulating the industry.
Following Senator Thune’s remarks, 3M convened a panel to explore, among other items, the challenges of relying on existing infrastructure to deploy new AV technologies. The panel featured David Kelly, Principal and CEO of Storm King Strategies and Former Acting Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Cherilyn Pascoe, Professional Staff Member and Investigator at the Commerce Committee, and Greg Rogers, Policy Analyst & Assistant Editor at the Eno Center on Transportation. Panelists emphasized that while many in Washington and elsewhere want to focus on “level four and five automation” – i.e. cars that are fully autonomous – that world is still decades off, and vehicles with some assisted-driving capabilities need to be accommodated more immediately.
Tomorrow’s cars will need to need standardized road markings and signage, requiring investment in infrastructure from all levels of government. Mr. Rogers from Eno emphasized that funding to accommodate AVs should come in part from increases in the gas tax, and applauded the states that have already acted. Mr. Kelly, formally of NHTSA, reminded the audience that “you can’t infrastructure your way to safety,” and urged audience members to continue driver behavior campaigns as AV technologies continue to be rolled out. Finally, panelists noted that there is already differing AV terminology among the 50 states, and that the federal government should work towards providing standardized definitions in the coming years to avoid confusion and patchwork regulations.
Senator Klobuchar offered remarks at the close of the event by touting Minnesota’s contributions to the AV landscape. She thanked 3M for taking a leading role in the industry and emphasized the Senate Commerce Committee remains committed to introducing and passing legislation aimed at providing federal guidance for automated vehicles.