Washington — Automakers would each be allowed to operate more than 100,000 self-driving cars per year on U.S. roads, and states would be prevented from passing laws to prevent them from doing so under a proposed bill being drafted by lawmakers in the U.S. Senate.
The measure, drafted with input from U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, would allow the Secretary of Transportation to grant exemptions to federal motor vehicle rules that require cars to have human operators. Initially, 50,000 cars per automaker could be operated if companies can prove they meet existing safety standards for traditional cars. After a 12-month period, the number of exemptions per manufacturer would increase to 75,000, and it would go up to 100,000 in the third year.
Automakers would be able to apply for exemptions to operate more than 100,000 self-driving cars after five years under the proposed legislation. The current limit for such exemptions to federal auto standards is 2,500 cars for two years at a time.
A similar measure that would allow automakers each to operate up to 100,000 self-driving cars per year on U.S. roads was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday.
Both versions of the proposed legislation prohibit states and other local jurisdictions from adopting regulations related to cars’ design, construction, software or communication. States still would be allowed to regulate registration, licensing, liability, education and training, insurance or traffic laws.
The new proposed exemptions would apply to vehicles in which there is a system that operates with the expectation that a human driver will take over upon being prompted. The legislation would also cover cars with high automation levels, where the automated driving can perform maneuvers even if a human driver does not take over when promoted – and for full automation, when the automated system is responsible for all driving tasks.
The measure was drafted after weeks of backroom negotiations between Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee over issues involving the number of test vehicles that would be exempt from federal safety standards requiring a human to be in control of the car, the length of time those exemptions would be good for and protections from potential hackers.
The proposed measure would direct the U.S. Department of Transportation to produce a report on provisions in federal motor vehicle safety standards that need to be updated to allow self-driving cars to perform tasks that are currently required of human operators and create a technical safety committee for highly automated cars. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation would also be required to accept comments on a proposed rule for self-driving cars and decide within one year on those standards.
Automakers will be required to submit a safety evaluation of their self-driving cars within 90 days of the proposed measure’s enactment.
Michigan had already taken steps to position itself as a haven for self-driving car testing: The state Legislature passed into law last year a measure that allows robotic cars to be operated on any Michigan road without a driver behind the wheel.
Supporters of the measure moving now in Congress anticipate the U.S. Senate will take up its version of the self-driving measure this fall.