House Panel Advances Bill to Ease Safety Restrictions on Autonomous Vehicles

Federal legislation on the regulation of self-driving cars may be gaining traction.  The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a bipartisan bill that would ease safety restrictions on self-driving cars and preempt state laws banning “highly automated systems” or self-driving vehicles to allow designers to test and deploy cars on the road.  The Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution Act (the “SELF DRIVE Act”) bill passed the House Committee with a 54-0 vote.  It would facilitate the release by automakers of 25,000 automated vehicles in the first year and up to 100,000 automated vehicles annually, starting in the third year after the bill’s effective date. 

The bill would name the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) as responsible for safety oversight of self-driving vehicles and automaker compliance.  However, the bill would streamline  NHTSA processes for oversight.  Under the bill, automated vehicles would not require pre-market safety approval, although automakers would be required to submit safety assessment reports and certifications in advance.  The bill requires the Secretary of Transportation to issue a final rule on those certifications within 24 months after the bill’s effective date.

The bill placed a significant emphasis on cybersecurity.  Before releasing a self-driving vehicle, automakers would be required to develop a written cybersecurity policy that addresses how the company will prevent unauthorized access to automated driving systems and ensure appropriate employee cybersecurity training.  The plan would need to identify an officer or other individual with responsibilities for management of cybersecurity risks.  The written information security plan provisions would take effect 180 days after the enactment of the bill.

The bill also requires continued review and research to support the safe development and deployment of automated vehicles.  Provisions also include a requirement that new vehicles include a rear seat occupant alert system to help reduce the risks of children’s heat-related injuries and deaths in cars.

The House of Representatives will consider the bill when it reconvenes in September; the Senate is expected to propose similar measures in a separate bill.