Federal Legislation of Autonomous Vehicles Fails to Pass

The AV START act, a bipartisan bill that would have been the first significant federal legislation of autonomous vehicles, failed to make it through Congress. This happened as drivers throughout the country are sharing the roads with an increasing number of self-driving cars, and individual states are passing their own laws governing this new technology.

Liability for Autonomous Vehicle Manufacturers

Among other things, the bill would have created the Highly Automated Technical Committee within the Department of Transportation (DOT). The bill would have preempted states from “regulating the design, construction, or performance of a highly automated vehicle.”

However, it did not preempt state common law on liability for manufacturers, allowing individuals injured by self-driving cars to seek recourse in the courts. While the auto industry supported the bill, trial attorneys were opposed to it as they sought to prohibit forced arbitration agreements, something the bill did not contain.

Next Steps in Self-Driving Car Legislation

Notwithstanding the bill’s failure, autonomous vehicle regulation remains one of the few areas where bipartisan agreement remains viable. Moving forward, with a House now controlled by Democrats, it seems evident that any future bill will have to address their concerns. This includes more emphasis on safety standards and the preservation of the rights of injured passengers and pedestrians to sue manufacturers.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has done little to restrict self-driving car development or use, but individual states are addressing the issue with their own laws. So far, a total of 29 states have already passed some form of legislation dealing with autonomous vehicles.