On September 6, 2017, the House took a major step toward enacting what could become the first-ever federal law to regulate autonomous vehicles. The Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution Act or the “SELF DRIVE Act” (H.R. 3388), introduced earlier by the House on July 25, 2017, and approved unanimously by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on July 27, 2017, was passed by voice vote immediately after the lawmakers came back from their summer recess. This fast-tracking shows that this bill is uncontroversial and bipartisan, which bodes well for autonomous vehicles and automakers and tech companies.

As more fully described in our earlier article “Congress Supports the Deployment of Autonomous Vehicles”, this bill intends to ease the process for developing and deploying autonomous vehicles in numerous aspects, including exempting automakers and tech companies from existing safety standards to allow those companies to test autonomous vehicles on public roads more extensively, and providing federal laws preemption over a patchwork of state laws and regulations concerning autonomous vehicles.

Industry groups see this passed bill as a victory for the automakers and tech companies involved in the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles. However, it still remains unseen, and automakers and tech companies are advised to closely monitor, how the bill will turn into actual regulations and/or standards affecting the industry. The U.S. Department of Transportation (or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) will be required to develop a new set of safety regulations and/or standards once the bill is finally enacted into law. Before autonomous vehicles are released on public roads for testing and deployment, automakers and tech companies must comply with those regulations and/or standards.

The bill now heads over to the Senate, which is also expected to release its own version of an autonomous vehicles bill in the near future.

We will continue to monitor the legislative activities of federal and state government that concern autonomous vehicles and address potential effects of government activities through the next series of articles on this topic.