With AV START Dead for 2018, Supporters Look to Next Congress

December 21, 2018

Legislators and advocates for federal automated vehicle legislation conceded this week that the clock had run out on the AV START Act but expressed optimism for the bill’s chances in the new Congress.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the bill’s lead sponsor and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee which approved the bill back in November 2017, confirmed this week that the legislation was officially dead in the 115th Congress, calling it “disappointing” that Congress did not pass the bill this year.

Some had hoped that a new version of AV START designed to better address the concerns of some groups opposing the bill could be attached to the must-pass spending bill Congress was to consider before recessing for the holidays. But the Continuing Resolution passed the Senate without it and has since become bogged down in debate over funding for the border wall, a priority of President Trump’s. As of this writing, it is unclear whether Congress can pass a spending bill President Trump is willing to sign ahead of tonight’s deadline to fund the government.

Advocates for AV START aired their frustration about the bill’s fate: Amitai Bin-Nun, Vice President of Autonomous Vehicles at Security America’s Future Energy, tweeted that he “will need to spend some time taking stock and figuring out the best path forward.” Hilary Cain, Director of Technology and Innovation Policy at Toyota, called failure to pass the bill this year “a missed opportunity” and predicted everyone “will look back on this years from now and shake our collective heads over how Congress failed to get out ahead of this and establish a federal framework for this emerging technology.”

Consumer groups and safety advocates, meanwhile, celebrated the bill going down. In a statement after news broke of the bill’s demise, Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety said some provisions of the bill “seriously jeopardized public safety,” while Jack Gillis, Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of America, warned that AV START would have “[unleashed] unproven driverless cars on a massive scale without critical government oversight and industry accountability.”

That the bill didn’t pass this year means it will have to wind its way through the legislative process anew next year—but supporters insisted that it was down, not out. Sen. Thune said it “could even possibly move as part of a government funding bill early in the new Congress.”

While AV START could be attached to a larger piece of legislation, it is unclear how it would fare as a standalone bill, given Democrats’ taking the majority in the House and the lingering concern among some Senate Democrats, such as Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ed Markey (D-MA).

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