U.S. Senators Announce Bipartisan Deal on Self-Driving Car Rules

The legislation would be a companion to rules recently passed by the House.

Tim Herman/Intel Corporation—Intel Corporation

Following passage of legislation by the U.S. House of Representatives meant to remove barriers to autonomous car testing, the Senate is preparing its own set of rules. A bipartisan group of senators say they have reached a deal on legislation that will be voted on by the Commerce Committee on October 4, reports Reuters.

Text of the bill will be released later on Thursday, but the proposed rules could mirror those of a House bill passed unanimously earlier this month. That bill sought to expedite wide-scale testing of self-driving cars by making it easier for companies to put test vehicles on the road, and by giving rule-making authority to the federal government, rather than states.

The House legislation would allow companies to certify up to 25,000 self-driving cars in the first year, rising to 100,000 cars in the third. It would also allow states to only pass their own rules for licensing, liability, insurance, and safety inspections, not the technology itself. Companies would be allowed to put cars on sale without any government pre-approval of specific tech features, although they would have to submit safety assessments.

That legislation excludes vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds, and the Senate bill is expected to include a similar exemption. That leaves the regulatory situation for self-driving commercial trucks up in the air.

So far, the House legislation has received praise from automakers and other entities developing self-driving cars. That's not surprising, given that it limits government oversight and allows companies to avoid dealing with a patchwork of individual state laws. Critics, however, have expressed concern over the lack of involvement from government regulators.

Legislation passed by the House and currently being drafted by the Senate lets companies scale up their self-driving car testing efforts, but so far neither branch of Congress has created anything near a comprehensive set of self-driving car rules that could govern widespread consumer use of the technology, something automakers and tech companies view as inevitable. Legislators will have to keep working—together—to stay ahead of those developments.