Congress will not pass self-driving car bill in 2018

Congress announced that they will not vote on a bill to speed the introduction of self-driving vehicles before it adjourns for the year. A monumental blow to companies such as General Motors and Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo unit, according to key senators after the latest hearing. Congress will also not take up a proposal pushed by GM and Tesla Inc. to extend or expand a $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles. To win passage in the final days, the measures had to be attached to a bill introduced December 19th to fund government operations. Senators conceded the funding bill was the only way forward before Congress adjourns.

Senator John Thune and Gary Peters led the battle to win approval for more than a year and vowed on December 19th to try again in 2019. Thune stated it is a problem if Congress does not act in 2019 because “the technology is going to keep advancing.” Peters warned that the United States could get surpassed on self-driving vehicles by China, South Korea and others who “are betting big on the technology and they are developing the regulatory framework to accommodate it.” Automaker lobbyists say the measures will face harsher odds in 2019 when Democrats and Republicans will share control of Congress. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, called the bill’s failure “a setback for the development and ultimate deployment of potentially life-saving technologies, and leaves many unanswered questions on how this technology will be regulated.” The tax credit for Tesla buyers will fall to $3,750 on Jan. 1 and will phase out entirely by the end of 2019, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Senator John Barrasso, proposed termination the EV tax credit entirely and has plans to reintroduce the measure in 2019, while automakers plan to press for the credit’s extension.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation in 2017 to increase the adoption of self-driving cars and bar states from setting performance standards, but the legislation stalled in the Senate. Despite concessions by automakers, the bill could not overcome oppositions from some who argued it did not do enough to resolve safety concerns. Automakers may instead turn to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has said it plans to make it easier to test self-driving vehicles. In October of 2018, NHTSA said it was considering a pilot program to allow real-world road testing for a limited number of vehicles without human controls. GM in January filed a appeal seeking an exemption to use fully automated vehicles as part of a ride-sharing fleet it plans to implement in 2019, but the agency has not yet acted on it.