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Blumenthal Secures Critical Safety and Accountability Measures in Autonomous Vehicle Legislation

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Yesterday in a meeting of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, amendments authored by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) were adopted into the final language of the AV START Act, comprehensive autonomous vehicle legislation. Blumenthal is Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security, which has jurisdiction over the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the agency that oversees many aspects of the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles.

“The comprehensive autonomous vehicle legislation approved in Committee today radically changes the existing laws and procedures for auto safety in the interest of speeding up the rollout of these vehicles,” said Blumenthal. “The commonsense amendments I authored and successfully included in the approved bill will not only foster innovation, but also help manufacturers earn the traveling public’s trust with increased transparency and additional oversight by NHTSA. As Congress considers the future of autonomous vehicle use, we must make it clear to consumers that safety won’t take a back seat. I look forward to working with the bill’s sponsors to incorporate key additional consumer safeguards that make sure a human operator can take manual control of an autonomous vehicle in the event of an emergency.”

Blumenthal-sponsored amendments adopted by the Committee for the final bill will:

  • Limit vehicle exemption caps for manufacturers and require NHTSA to establish equivalent safety before increasing or renewing any exemption cap, to better manage safety issues and contain risk to the public;
  • Require manufacturers to include information comparing the safety of the autonomous vehicle to human drivers in Safety Evaluation Reports, and to identify consumer educational materials where this information can also be provided to consumers so consumers can understand their risk;
  • Require exemptions to expire after 10 years if no federal standards for AVs have been established, thus creating a hard deadline for NHTSA to write these rules;
  • Ensure Safety Evaluation Reports are made publicly available before autonomous vehicles are introduced into interstate commerce so consumers are fully informed on how these vehicles will operate on their roads, including their limitations; and
  • Limit manufacturers’ ability to disable vehicle safety systems, so passengers remain safe on the road.
  • The HOT CARS Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by Blumenthal and U.S. Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Al Franken (D-MN) to prevent heatstroke deaths of children in hot cars by requiring all new passenger motor vehicles be equipped with a child safety alert system, was also included as an amendment to the AV START Act.