Self-Driving Car Rules Get Renewed Push as Congress Eyes China

  • House debuts legislative proposals, holds hearing this week
  • Labor, safety concerns complicate path forward in Congress

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Congress is renewing efforts to accelerate the deployment of autonomous vehicles on US roads, drawing concerns from safety and labor groups.

“Inaction over the past two Congresses has put America at risk of ceding leadership in this industry,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Innovation, Data, and Commerce Subcommittee Chair Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) said in a statement.

The Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association — a trade group with members including Aurora, General Motors Co.‘s Cruise, Nuro, Ford Motor Co., Uber Technologies Inc., Alphabet Inc.‘s Waymo — is urging Congress and the administration to advance AV legislation and regulation this year.

McMorris Rodgers’s committee will discuss two draft bills on regulating AVs, one from Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) and another from Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) at a legislative hearing Wednesday. Last week, Senate appropriators directed the administration to move forward with a regulatory framework, signaling new movement in a long legislative stalemate.

“For American manufacturers to stay competitive with foreign competitors like China, we need to enable our automakers to develop, test, and safely deploy AV technology,” Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) said after he secured the provisions in the appropriations bill.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
GM Cruise autonomous vehicles sit in a lot on June 8, 2023 in San Francisco, where they’ve been tested and raised safety concerns.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers also asked the Biden administration last week to probe and restrict AVs made by Chinese companies, pointing to seven companies with licenses to test the technology in California, including and Baidu Apollo.

Previous congressional AV regulation efforts have foundered in the face of resistance from unions and trial lawyers, as well as safety concerns. Latta has long been pushing for his legislation, which passed the House by voice vote in 2017 before stalling.

While lawmakers and industry say deploying self-driving cars would help curb deaths on US roads, safety advocates are skeptical.

“Congress must take action to make our roads safer, not open them up to unproven and unregulated vehicles,” said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

The House hearing this week will look at the proposal from Latta, similar to his 2017 bill, to set standards to accelerate automated vehicles, as well as Dingell’s, which includes more requirements for safety data and establishes the manufacturer as the driver under traffic laws.

The spending measure (S. 2437) and report the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced last week would direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to finalize a framework for the review of self-driving technology and provide money to hire as many as 10 employees for an automation safety office.

Another potential avenue for AV legislation this Congress could be riding on an artificial intelligence package that lawmakers are pursuing. The Chamber of Progress urged Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) earlier this year to consider autonomous vehicles as it works on an AI proposal.

The administration is also pursuing its own efforts. NHTSA said this month it was aiming to publish a proposed rule this fall for a new program around assessing AV applications.

Bumpy Road

With legislation back in play, so are concerns around what will end up being advanced. The House majority’s legislative proposal and hearing raised red flags for labor and safety groups.

The majority’s draft legislation falls short—while Dingell’s proposal shows a “path forward for pro-worker, pro-safety AV legislation,” John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, said.

“We will work against any legislation that fails to properly regulate autonomous vehicles, preserve our safety standards, and sustain and create good, union jobs,” Samuelson said in a statement.

More autonomous vehicles have been hitting the streets of San Francisco with robotaxi services, raising concerns amid traffic and safety complaints. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency wants to slow efforts to expand.

“Let’s continue to make progress with improving AVs, but not at the expense of the traveling public,” Chase said in an interview. “The science experiment that’s happening in San Francisco is turning into a fiasco.”

More than 20 safety and consumer groups sent a letter to House committee leaders last week to oppose legislation that would allow for exemptions from safety standards and preempt state laws.

“AVs are demonstrating day after day that they jeopardize the safety of road users including first responders on public roads,” Joan Claybrook, a safety advocate and former head of NHTSA, said. “Legislation soon to be considered in Congress that does not do what’s needed to protect the public is dangerous and illogical.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at; Michaela Ross at

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