Lawmakers get behind revised AV START Act for autonomous vehicles

December 5, 2018

Tyson Fisher


After sitting in limbo for more than a year, the AV START Act, proposed legislation regulating autonomous vehicles, is getting revved up again. A revised version has been making the rounds among lawmakers and stakeholders in an attempt to acquire much needed votes before the end of the current congressional session.

On Monday, Dec. 3, revisions to the American Vision for Safer Transportation Through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act were distributed in Washington, D.C. Also known as S1885, the revised version still excludes commercial vehicles from proposed legislation.

Introduced on Sept. 28, 2017, by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the original version established rules and regulations on autonomous vehicles for governments and manufacturers. However, the language allowed autonomous vehicle companies to force arbitration rather than have consumers sue them. That did not sit well with trial lawyers, who have been lobbying against the bill.

In the revised version, the AV START Act “limits the use of pre-dispute arbitration clauses related to death or bodily injury until particular safety standards relevant to the specific claim being brought are in effect.” Furthermore, state law and statutory liability will be unaffected by federal preemption.

The American Association for Justice, an association representing trial attorneys, and which opposed the original draft of the AV START Act, wrote a letter to the Senate expressing its satisfaction with the revisions:

“As it currently stands (the afternoon of Monday, Dec. 3), our understanding is that the Senate proffer includes language which adequately preserves the right to bring a claim under state law, and sufficiently decreases the likelihood that the driverless car industry will be able to force Americans into arbitration, but only to the extent that they or their loved ones are injured or killed by an AV. We have reserved our right to revisit this determination if there are any changes to any of the preemption sections. Also, to be clear, we have not taken a position on the bill in its entirety, nor have we taken a position on any potential House proffer, because we have not yet had the opportunity to review the whole text or any House language.”

Revisions further clarify that state and localities retain their rights regarding laws over motor vehicle operations and enforcement, reducing any qualms stemming from states potentially losing authority they currently possess.

New language will require a “vision test.” Manufacturers must test and validate that the automated driving systems will identify, detect and respond to all road users, including pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists. Additionally, manufacturers must validate a vehicle’s operational design, which now includes the type of roadway and environmental and temporal conditions.

Another provision addresses the safety of Level 2 vehicles, which includes the Tesla Model S. Manufacturers will be required to submit reports to ensure consumer education and engagement are addressed. Specifically, manufacturers must educate consumers on the capabilities and limitations of Level 2 vehicles. Owners of Level 2 vehicles have been making headlines by overestimating the abilities of their vehicles, including a recent report of a Tesla Model S driver asleep at the wheel while on Highway 101 in California.

To read the full summary of AV START Act revisions, click here.

For the most part, the Senate’s autonomous vehicle bill mirrors the House bill, the SELF DRIVE Act, with the exception of some minor tweaks here and there. The AV START Act omitted two provisions unrelated to AVs at the end of the SELF DRIVE Act, one regarding a rear seat occupant alert system and the other addressing headlamps. The former was in response to children being left inside cars during extreme weather. An amendment from Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., to direct Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to issue a rule requiring all new passenger motor vehicles to be equipped with a child safety alert system was approved by committee.


Related news: House committee roundtable addresses autonomous tech in trucking industry

Tyson Fisher

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.