One of the 130 Chevrolet Bolt EV test vehicles is displayed at the Orion Assembly Plant Tuesday in Orion Township. Photo: IC
A bipartisan trio of US senators said on Tuesday they planned to introduce legislation to remove regulatory roadblocks to the introduction of self-driving cars, including sorting out conflicts between state and federal rules.
Republican Senator John Thune, who chairs the Commerce Committee, Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the panel, and Senator Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat, said in a joint statement that existing federal vehicle regulations written over recent decades did not account for self-driving cars without a human driver behind the wheel.
Thune said the senators hoped to reach agreement based on "prioritizing safety, fixing outdated rules, and clarifying the role of federal and state governments."
Federal auto regulations pose significant legal hurdles that must be cleared before fully self-driving cars can be sold without steering wheels and gas pedals, a government report said last year.
The senators are joining a broader movement in Washington to respond to calls from Detroit and Silicon Valley for federal action to set rules for self-driving cars, rather than allowing states such as California to write potentially conflicting rules.
The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee told Reuters that he planned to unveil a package of legislation to overhaul federal rules governing self-driving vehicles.
Companies such as Alphabet Inc, General Motors Co and Volkswagen AG are pursuing automated technologies and want unified federal regulations to replace outdated rules and make it simpler to develop and eventually sell the technology across the country.
In April, automakers and technology companies urged California to make changes to its proposed state regulations governing autonomous vehicles.
Many oppose California's plan to require a state permit to deploy autonomous vehicles, which must meet performance and design criteria.
The US Transportation Department has said it would unveil revised self-driving guidelines within the next few months, responding to automakers' calls for regulations to sanction costly efforts to put autonomous vehicles on the road.
Vehicle crashes annually kill more than 35,000 people on US roads and injure 2.4 million.
The economic cost of vehicle crashes is at least $240 billion annually, the government says.
General Motors Co said on Tuesday it has completed production of 130 self-driving Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles at its Orion assembly plant in Michigan.
The carmaker expects to deploy the vehicles within the month in San Francisco and Scottsdale, Arizona, with its ride-sharing affiliate Lyft Inc, after a final test in Michigan, according to a company representative.
GM began producing the Bolt test vehicles at the Orion plant in January, and expects the self-driving test fleet to grow to 180.
Detroit-based GM joins a list of companies aggressively pursuing automated vehicle technologies. These include Ford Motor Co, Uber Technologies Inc, Tesla Inc and Alphabet Inc's self-driving car Waymo unit.
Britain's biggest carmaker Jaguar Land Rover said its mobility services business, InMotion Ventures, would invest $25 million in Lyft Inc to help develop and test technology for self-driving cars, according to a Reuters report on Monday.
Tech mammoth Apple Inc also appears to have an intention of concentrating on technology for self-driving cars. Chief Executive Tim Cook said for the first time in an interview with Bloomberg on June 5 that the company is focusing on autonomous systems.
"We're not really saying from a product point of view, what we will do ... it's a core technology that we view as very important," Cook said.
A late entrant to the self-driving race, Apple secured a permit in April to test autonomous vehicles in California and has recruited dozens of auto experts.
The auto industry and technology companies are racing to develop self-driving technology, which in the years to come is expected to transform transportation by cutting costs of ride services and changing the way people buy and use cars.