Self-Driving Car Bill Drafts Silent on Maker Accountability (1)

(Updates throughout with controversy over lawsuits.)

House and Senate lawmakers moved a step closer to drawing up driverless car legislation, drafting sections that stopped short of addressing a key sticking point: whether a customer can sue if there’s a crash.

The House Energy and Commerce and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committees circulated seven sections to industry groups, covering issues such as cybersecurity, regulator expertise, and crash-data sharing. Added to six other sections, the seven will be the final portions provided to advocacy groups for feedback, committee staff wrote in an email obtained Wednesday night by Bloomberg Government.

Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg
An Argo AI modified Ford Motor Co. Fusion autonomous vehicle.

Missing is a provision dealing with forced arbitration, a practice the American Association for Justice, a group representing trial lawyers, wants to ban in any autonomous vehicle bill. The Senate’s self-driving car bill from the 115th Congress (S. 1885) would have left the door open to forced arbitration, a matter that riled the group. Disagreement over the topic also pushed some senators to abandon the bill, dooming it in the Senate.

The two committees are seeking to develop a federal framework for self-driving technology, which car industry advocates said Tuesday would give them the regulatory certainty that they seek to continue developing autonomous cars in the U.S. Lawmakers’ plans for how to hold driverless carmakers accountable for crashes could contribute to whether the bill receives broad support from both chambers of Congress.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), one of the top Democrats working on the new self-driving car bill, said at a hearing Tuesday that he’d oppose forced arbitration in the next autonomous vehicle bill.

A senator echoed that view Wednesday afternoon. “Whenever there is compulsory arbitration, I would oppose it,” said Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), one of the senators who opposed the bill last Congress.

Read the Discussion Draft Sections:

To contact the reporter on this story: Courtney Rozen in Washington at crozen@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Jodie Morris at jmorris@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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