Lawmakers in the U.S. House clashed with a trial lawyers’ lobby group that helped kill a bill setting guidelines for self-driving vehicles, according to a report by The Detroit News.
American Association for Justice, a group that lobbies for trial lawyers, didn’t agree with the lack of concrete protections that would guarantee the right to sue an automaker if someone is hurt or killed in a self-driving vehicle, says the report.
A similar measure was approved by the House in 2017, but lawmakers had to start over when the new Congress started in 2019.
“It should be clear from the history of the process that Republicans and Democrats on this panel worked very hard with your organization to get sign off and support when we first moved this bill,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) during a recent U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing. “So you might imagine my disappointment when you all asked for more changes in the Senate, despite the deal we had here in the House with your organization.”
Daniel Hinkle, state affairs counsel for the American Association of Justice, defended the organization for wanting clear liability regulations in any future self-driving legislation, according to the report.
“The difference between an automated vehicle and a human-driven vehicle is a promise,” said Hinkle. “It is a promise from the manufacturer of that automated driving-system that they will operate the vehicle safely on our roads. … The key question is whether our laws will hold these companies accountable for that promise.”
Self-driving legislation has started to be revived after the government recently approved the first self-driving vehicle with no steering wheel, brake pedal, or human driver. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has allowed robotics company Nuro Inc. to put up to 5,000 of its autonomous electric delivery vehicles on the road over a two-year period, according to the report.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) said it’s important for Congress to create rules for self-driving testing to make sure that the U.S. remains up to date on developing the technology.
“Safety, including cybertechnology, has to be our top priority here,” said Dingell. “Nobody wants to let unsafe technologies on the road. But we also don’t want to prevent vehicles that would improve safety and mobility … from reaching consumers easier. If you’re a safety advocate, you should want a bill to give NHTSA the authority to ensure these vehicles are safe. If you’re an innovator, you need certainty to know what the rules of the road are.”