WASHINGTON — The tire and auto equipment industries have definite ideas on what they want in pending regulation of automated vehicles.
What they eventually will get, however, is still up for debate.
The AV START Act — Senate bill 1885 — was introduced in the Senate by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and approved unanimously last October by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
In March, however, five Democratic senators — Dianne Feinstein of California, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Tom Udall of New Mexico — placed a hold on the legislation because of various concerns regarding the basic safety and security of autonomous vehicles.
Shortly thereafter, a coalition of more than 100 companies and associations wrote the Senate March 5, urging it to pass the AV Start Act.
The coalition — which includes the U.S Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA), Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA), Auto Care Association and Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers Inc. — said the AV START Act could be reconciled easily with its companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
That bill, H.R. 3388 or the SELF DRIVE Act, passed the House in September 2017 by voice vote.
"The AV START Act represents a historic opportunity for Congress to establish a technology-neutral regulatory framework to advance these groundbreaking technologies while supporting research and investment in the United States," the coalition letter said.
According to the committee report on the AV START Act, the bill among other things would:
Provide enhanced safety oversight by requiring manufacturers to submit complete safety evaluation reports on their autonomous vehicles to the Department of Transportation (DOT).
Reinforce the DOT's traditional responsibility for regulating vehicles, while allowing additional research and coordination with state and local governments.
Reduce barriers to deployment, allowing an enhanced review and approval process for up to 80,000 vehicles per manufacturer in the third year after enactment.
Maintain the status quo for trucks and buses, while maintaining the DOT's authority in the future to regulate vehicles over 10,000 pounds.
Create a committee of experts to help the DOT create and update safety regulations relevant to AVs, as well as update crash data collection to include AV-specific information.
Strengthen cybersecurity protections by directing manufacturers to minimize cybersecurity risks to AVs and authorizing the DOT to work with manufacturers to coordinate vulnerability disclosure policies.
Improve vehicle safety and data sharing by establishing a committee to report to Congress on AV ownership, control and access.
Direct the DOT and manufacturers to work together to advance responsible consumer education on the capabilities and limitations of AVs.
Forbid the states from issuing AV licenses that discriminate because of disabilities.
Passage of comprehensive legislation regulating the AV industry is crucial, according to Tom Lehner, MEMA vice president of policy, and Leigh Merino, MEMA senior director of regulatory affairs. The AV START Act offers almost everything the industry is looking for, they said.
"From a broad standpoint, you have every stakeholder — suppliers, OEMs, safety advocates, and so forth — supporting this bill," Mr. Lehner said.
Within two or three years, Stage 4 AVs — highly though not fully automated vehicles — will be on the road, according to Mr. Lehner.
"With regard to regulation, we need to make sure that it's done the right way," he said. "With the AV START Act, both OEMs and suppliers will have the ability, once the bill is enacted, to test and refine autonomous vehicles on public roadways.
"A successful rollout depends on getting real-world information on driver behavior in public spaces," he said.
The AV START Act would allow for modifications of motor vehicle safety standards to allow AV testing, according to Ms. Merino.
"OEMs wouldn't have to apply for constant exemptions," she said.
USTMA President and CEO Anne Forristall Luke said she was optimistic the AV START Act could pass the 115th Congress.
"There are not a lot of big-ticket items before Congress, because it's time for members to go out campaigning," Ms. Luke said. "The AV START Act has major bipartisan support, and very little baggage. We expect they will take it up before the end of the year."
In the coalition letter, the signatories note that the AV START Act contains many of the same concepts that were included in the highly automated voluntary vehicle guidance document the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued in September 2017.
The document — Automated Driving Systems: A Vision for Safety — was designed to support the safe introduction of automation technologies, according to its executive summary.
It includes a voluntary guidance for automated driving systems; best practices for legislatures, delineating federal and state roles in the regulation of automated driving systems; and best practices for state highway officials, providing a framework for states to develop procedures and conditions for safe operations of automated driving systems on public roadways.
"This voluntary guidance provides a flexible framework for industry to choose how to address a given safety design element," the executive summary said.
Building on this voluntary document, NHTSA issued a request for comments in the Jan. 18 Federal Register on regulatory barriers to the introduction and certification of automated driving systems.
NHTSA, the notice said, is developing plans and proposals to remove or modify existing barriers to testing and compliance certifications in those areas for which existing data and knowledge are sufficient to support decision making.
"In other areas, plans and proposals cannot be developed until the completion of near-term research to determine how to revise the test procedures for those vehicles," NHTSA said.
NHTSA followed up on the request for comments with a March 6 public meeting on identifying regulatory barriers to automated driving systems, hosted by Heidi King, NHTSA deputy administrator and Trump administration nominee as NHTSA administrator. (A May 22 Senate confirmation vote on King was delayed because of opposition from some Democrats and the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen.)
"Safety is our first priority," Ms. King said in opening the meeting attended by nearly 150 people.
"The technology, we believe, as we've all discussed, had tremendous potential. We want to make sure we're identifying the safe ways to remove the impediments to seeing safety-enhancing technologies deployed."
The most important factor in any regulatory scheme for AVs is for NHTSA, DOT and Congress to assert federal authority in rulemaking, according to Ms. Luke.
"An effective policy on autonomous vehicles would be to protect consumer safety but avoid obstacles to innovation and prevent a patchwork of regulations out of the states," she said.
Although NHTSA is concentrating on the AV technology itself, the tire industry will have an important role to play in that technology, and the USTMA already is participating with the agency on this issue, according to Ms. Luke.
"Our 12 members are all experts in advanced technology," she said. "They are looking at autonomous vehicles with an eye to making innovative contributions that protect consumer safety."
Mr. Lehner and Ms. Merino spoke highly of both NHTSA's own AV research and the research contracts it has granted third-party organization.
One of the most important of these grants is the one NHTSA gave to the Virginia Tech Transportation Center in November 2017, they said.
Virginia Tech is leading a multidisciplinary project to translate existing regulations and testing procedures to encompass new and innovative vehicle designs.
The Transportation Center is coordinating a team that includes experts on motor vehicle safety standards; technology experts from General Motors Co. and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.; research firms Dynamic Research Inc., MGA Research Corp., Booz Allen Hamilton and the Southwest Research Institute; and various stakeholders and peer research groups.
Such research is vital to ensure the U.S. remains at the forefront of AV technology, according to Ms. Merino.
"If we don't do it in the U.S., other regions will take the lead," she said.