Senators push funding for driverless proving grounds

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters on Tuesday led a bipartisan effort urging congressional appropriators to include “robust funding” for the testing and development of self-driving vehicles in any government spending agreement for 2018.

They are referring to the 10 testing sites officially designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation last year, including the 500-acre American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township.

The Democrats, joined by Sens. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin; and Bill Nelson, D-Florida; said connected and automated vehicles are being developed internationally, and “we risk the erosion of our leadership position if we do not take steps to facilitate the continued advancement of these technologies in the United States.”

“It is critical that the federal government play a leadership role in ensuring that (connected and automated vehicle) technologies are safely developed and tested,” the senators wrote.

“Identifying and selecting these initial proving grounds was a crucial first step, but USDOT must now be given the resources to use those facilities to their maximum potential and pave the way for the safe deployment of these technologies.”

The lawmakers want Congress to direct transportation officials to use such funding for safety research and testing at the designated proving grounds.

They wrote to Sens. Susan Collins, chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Jack Reed, the panel’s ranking Democrat.

The 500-acre American Center for Mobility began hosting the testing of driverless vehicles less than a month ago on the former site of the Willow Run bomber plant.

Congress on Monday approved another stopgap spending bill to fund the government through Feb. 8.