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Senate Committee Clears AV Legislation

Senate Committee Clears
AV Legislation

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved on Wednesday, October 4, 2017, by voice vote the S. 1885, "American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies Act" or the "AV START Act.” The intent of the bill is to support the development of highly automated vehicle safety technologies.

U.S. Senator John Thune (R-SD), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced the legislation on September 29, 2017. Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) are original cosponsors. The bill reaffirms the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) authority over the design, construction, and performance of highly automated vehicles (HAV) (SAE J3016 Level 3, 4, or 5 automated driving system). Over 60 amendments were filed. The majority were withdrawn.


The most noteworthy change in the Committee approved bill comes from an amendment from Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL). The amendment replaces preemption language that was included in H.R. 3388, the SELF DRIVE Act, which passed the House in September. It states that “No State or political subdivision of a State may adopt, maintain, or enforce any law, rule, or standard regulating the design, construction, or performance of a highly automated vehicle or automated driving system with respect to any of the safety evaluation report subject areas (SER).” The preemption section makes clear that “design, construction, or performance” are under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) authority. SER areas include system safety, data recording, cybersecurity, human-machine interface, crashworthiness, capabilities, post-crash behavior, account for applicable laws, and automation function. After NHTSA establishes a standard that addresses a particular subject matter, state and local preemption would cease.

State and local laws are not preempted concerning the sale, distribution, repair, or service of highly automated vehicles by a dealer, manufacturer, or distributor.” The bill keeps preemption that would stop a state from issuing a license for the operation or use of a highly automated vehicle in a manner that discriminates based on disability.

Safety Evaluation Report

The legislation requires manufacturers of highly automated vehicles to submit to the Secretary a SER. As noted in the prior section, a state or local government may not enact or enforce a law or regulation relating to any of the SER areas. Based on ITSA’s feedback to the staff discussion draft, the SER area that focused on Automation Function was improved at bill introduction. Language was added addressing roadway assets required for safe operation of highly automated vehicles and how the vehicle would respond if unexpected changes occurred to the operational design domain.

SER amendments approved at markup include amendments from Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) requiring information comparing highly automated vehicles with non-highly automated vehicles and that the Secretary must make the SER publicly available within 60 days, rather than “as soon as practicable;” Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) requiring manufacturers to describe how they would alert the human driver or operator about cyber vulnerabilities; Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) requiring manufacturers to include matters relating to avoidance of risk caused by a malfunction of a component of the automated driving system; Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) requiring the Secretary to verify the SAE level of automation designated by the manufacturer; Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) that seeks to improve supply chain cybersecurity; and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) that makes clear SERs are open to discovery, subpoena, other court order, or any other judicial process otherwise allowed under applicable federal or state law.

The Secretary may not condition the “manufacture, testing, sale, offer for sale or introduction” into interstate commerce of a highly automated vehicle based on review of the SER.


Based on an amendment from Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), the bill expands the number of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) exemptions for highly automated vehicle systems that NHTSA can grant from 2,500 to 15,000 vehicles in the first year, 40,000 vehicles in the second year, and 80,000 vehicles for any 12-month period following the second year. A manufacturer of a highly automated vehicle may petition the Secretary to expand the exemption to more than 80,000 vehicles in any 12-month period after the exemption has been in place for 4 years. Exemptions begin upon enactment and it would eliminate the cap after four years. The language as introduced would have expanded the number of FMVSS exemptions for highly automated vehicle systems that NHTSA can grant from 2,500 to 50,000 vehicles in the first year, 75,000 vehicles in the second year, and 100,000 vehicles for any 12-month period following the second year.

Technical Safety Committee & Consumer Education

The bill establishes a Highly Automated Vehicle Technical Safety Committee that will study system safety, automated steering and braking, crashworthiness, event data recording and data access and sharing, accessibility, and potential conflicts with existing FMVSS and provide recommendations on performance standards and harmonization of national highly automated vehicle safety standards. Several amendments were added. Senator Tammy Duckworth’s (D-IL) amendment would expand the scope to include safeguards against the misuse of highly automated vehicles; Senator Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) amendment adds vehicle communications with roadway and infrastructure assets; and Senator Brian Schatz’s (D-HI) amendment requires at least one representative from each of the groups listed and adds representation from individuals with disabilities and older adults.

Under the Consumer Education section, the Secretary is required to establish a working group to develop guidelines on consumer education efforts to improve the public’s understanding of advanced driver assist systems and automated vehicle technologies. Amendments added to this section include one from Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) that would expand the working group’s scope to include topics pertaining to consumer data collection, privacy, and data ownership; Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) that would expand membership to include safety organizations and organizations with experience in driver’s education; and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) which would require information comparing highly automated vehicles with non-highly automated vehicles.


The AV START Act requires manufacturers of highly automated vehicle systems to develop a cybersecurity plan. Several notable amendments were added to this section including one from Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) which requires the Secretary to develop educational cybersecurity resources to assist consumers in minimizing motor vehicle cybersecurity risks and to require manufacturers to include information directing consumers to the such resources on the new car window labels; Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) to include employee training in a manufacturer's’ cybersecurity plans; and Brian Schatz (D-HI) which would require manufacturers of highly automated vehicles or automated driving systems to publish summaries of their plans to identify and reduce cybersecurity risks to the highly automated vehicle.


The bill does not include vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or more (i.e. trucks and buses). The definition of a HAV is a motor vehicle with a gross weight of 10,000 pounds or less that is equipped with Level 3, 4, or 5 automated driving systems (SAE International Standard J3016). Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) offered an amendment that would have removed the heavy truck exemption from the definition of highly automated vehicle. The amendment was withdrawn.

Approved Amendments Approved Amendments

Blumenthal 1 (modified)

Blumenthal 4 (modified)

Blumenthal 6

Blumenthal 9

Blumenthal 10 (modified)

Blumenthal 11

Blumenthal 19 (modified)

Booker 3 (modified)

Duckworth 4 (modified)

Duckworth 5 (modified)

Duckworth 6 (modified)

Duckworth 8 (modified)

Gardner 1

Gardner 2

Hassan 4 (modified)

Inhofe 2 (modified)

Klobuchar 1 (modified)

Klobuchar 2 (modified)

Markey 1 (modified)

Markey 2 (modified)

Nelson 1 (modified)

Schatz 2

Schatz 3 (modified)

Schatz 4 (modified)

Udall 1 (modified)

Wicker 2 (modified)