Securing America's Future Energy

Autonomous Vehicle Legislation: State of Play and SAFE’s Role

Autonomous Vehicle (AV) technology could represent the greatest transformation our society has witnessed since the Industrial Revolution. AV technology will help the U.S. realize significant societal benefits, including greater mobility for underserved populations and cutting traffic accidents by 94 percent. This technology also serves economic and national security goals, as improved vehicle efficiency and fuel diversity will precipitate a shift away from our singular dependence on oil to power our transportation system.

As this nascent industry moves from test tracks onto public roads, the need for regulation and legislation has become a central issue for AV developers. From requiring federal preemption to supersede the messy patchwork of AV laws at the state level, to exemptions to allow the testing and development of innovative vehicle designs that allow access for the disability, senior and injured veteran communities, the industry requires regulatory certainty in order to remain globally competitive. Strong leadership at the federal level also strengthens America’s leadership in the industry, sending out the signal that innovation will always have a home in the United States.



Unanimously passed by the House in September, the SELF DRIVE Act represents the first step by Congress to create a federal framework that promotes the safe, expeditious deployment of AVs on America’s roads.

In a September 6 statement, SAFE praised the House passage as “a major step forward” as it created both a near-term and long-term pathway for AV technology, and directed the development of advisory committees around data sharing and disability engagement, positioning the U.S. as the global leader in the AV race.

SAFE also published an analysis of the House bill which outlined the bill’s many strengths, as well as suggested areas for improvement.


Approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in an October markup, the AV START Act is the Senate companion to the House bill, and also moves the U.S. one step closer to realizing a clear policy framework for this technology.

In an October 4 statement, SAFE applauded the bill’s progress as another step toward reducing our dangerous dependence on oil. SAFE also applauded the introduction of an amendment from Senators Tammy Duckworth and Brian Schatz that required a study to be carried out by the Department of Transportation researching the energy security implications of AVs. However, the statement also noted that the bill does not address the critical issue of commercial vehicles and trucks, which represent the best early-use case for this technology—and represents the sector with the greatest growing oil use.

Furthermore, opponents of AV technology are mischaracterizing an obscure yet essential portion of vehicle regulations, portraying the exemptions process as a ‘free pass’ for vehicle designers which puts other road users at risk. However, as SAFE CEO Robbie Diamond and Icebreaker Ventures MD Mark Platshon state in an op-ed for the San Jose Mercury News, gaining stringent exemptions to test new vehicles requires them to be at least as safe as other vehicles, and the process helps ensure they are among the most vetted cars on the road.

To see how the SELF DRIVE Act and the AV START Act compare, SAFE created an at-a-glance side-by-side comparison:

Side by Side AVs v2_9 Oct 17


SAFE Expertise

Since early 2016, SAFE has been at the forefront of AV thought leadership and has provided concrete policy recommendations and testimony to state and federal-level legislators, agencies and the administration. This includes:

SAFE Testimony to Senate Commerce Committee on Driverless Car Rules (March 2016) which called for an “Autonomous First” approach to the regulation of driverless cars, rather than a slower, iterative approach.
A National Strategy on Energy Security
 (May 2016) lays out the explicit link between autonomous vehicles and energy security gains, while offering specific policy recommendation to accelerate the development and deployment of these vehicles.
Commission on Autonomous Vehicle Testing and Safety (January 2017) presents best-practice recommendations based on the research and insight of a panel of safety experts and former public officials committed to the safe and timely introduction of AVs.
Report on the opportunities AVs provide to the disability community (January 2017) commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation, found that autonomous vehicle technology could open 2 million employment opportunities for people with disabilities and $19 billion could be saved annually in healthcare costs by reducing the expense of missed appointments by individuals who lack reliable transportation access.
Statement for the record studying the nexus between AVs and alternative fuel vehicles (February 2017), which found that 80 percent of current AV models employ an alternative drivetrain.

SAFE is also a founding member of the Coalition for Future Mobility, a diverse array of groups that advocates for clarity on federal and state roles for AVs, modernized NHTSA rulemaking to accommodate AV technology, and expanded FMVSS exemptions. The Coalition believes that adopting this forward-leaning approach will improve American quality of life, by improving the safety and accessibility  of our transportation system while reducing dependence on oil in our vehicle fleet.

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