By David Shepardson
(Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives will vote Wednesday on a sweeping proposal to speed the deployment of self-driving cars without human controls and bar states from blocking autonomous vehicles, congressional aides said.
The bill, which was passed unanimously by a House panel in July, would allow automakers to obtain exemptions to deploy up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards in the first year, a cap that would rise to 100,000 vehicles annually over three years.
Automakers and technology companies including General Motors Co <GM.N> and Alphabet Inc’s’ self-driving unit Waymo <GOOGL.O> have been pushing for new federal rules making it easier to deploy self-driving technology, while some consumer groups have sought additional safeguards.
The bill will be voted under fast-track rules that do not allow for amendments. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has been working on similar legislation but has not introduced a bill.
“Self-driving vehicles stand to make our transportation system safer and more efficient. Advancing this technology to road-ready requires government policy that encourages continued testing and development,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, said in a statement. “This formula is the foundation for what makes America the most innovative country in the world.”
The issue has taken on new urgency since U.S. road deaths rose 7.7 percent in 2015, the highest annual jump since 1966.
Automakers and technology companies believe chances are good that Congress will approve legislation before year end. Current federal rules bar self-driving cars without human controls on U.S. roads and automakers think proposed state rules in California are too restrictive.
The measure, the first significant federal legislation aimed at speeding self-driving cars to market, would require automakers to submit safety assessment reports to regulators, but would not require pre-market approval of advanced vehicle technologies.
Initially, authors proposed to allow automakers and others to sell up to 100,000 vehicles immediately. Representative Frank Pallone, a Democrat, said the phase-in period was essential so “millions of exempted cars will not hit our roads all at once.”
Manufacturers must demonstrate self-driving cars winning exemptions are at least as safe as existing vehicles.
Under the House proposal, states could still set rules on registration, licensing, liability, insurance and safety inspections, but could not set self-driving car performance standards.
Consumer advocates have sought more changes, including giving the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration quicker access to crash data and more funding to oversee self-driving cars.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)