Autonomous Vehicles Bills Yanked Out of Study After Arizona Fatality
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON — A study order usually dooms a bill to the legislative scrap heap.
But after a self-driving car killed a pedestrian in Arizona on Sunday night, the House chairman of the Transportation Committee on Tuesday asked for bills regulating the emerging technology to circle back to committee with hopes that the panel will produce something to vote on before the end of session.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who halted autonomous vehicle testing in the South Boston Seaport this week, suggested on Tuesday that policymakers create a rulebook for the technological frontier of travel.
"I think one of the things this tells us is we have to really look at who's going to be regulating this industry. The airline industry has regulations. The transportation industry has regulations," Walsh told reporters on Tuesday.
The committee last Thursday sent 10 autonomous vehicle bills to study. On Tuesday, House Chairman Rep. William Straus, of Mattapoisett, asked House Rules Committee Chairman William Galvin to return six House bills to the panel.
"It is clear that recent events – notably, a fatal accident involving an Uber test vehicle in Arizona and the resulting directive from the City of Boston to cease testing in the Seaport District – have made this request especially timely," Straus wrote to Galvin.
Winthrop Sen. Joseph Boncore, the Senate chairman of the Transportation Committee, said "meaningful legislation" regarding autonomous vehicles is needed at some point, though he has taken a different tack than Straus.
"We weren't able to come to an agreement on these bills. I'm not sure a recommital is going to help that process," Boncore told the News Service.
If the House passes a self-driving bill, the Senate would "address" that, said Boncore, who said he has been in discussions about developing a comprehensive autonomous vehicle bill in "future sessions."
In Massachusetts, autonomous technology has been tested without underlying law explicitly authorizing it. Walsh has welcomed companies to test their self-driving tech in the Seaport, starting with nuTonomy, which is authorized to venture out of the marine park in the Seaport.
Acquired by the publicly traded company Aptiv PLC, nuTonomy develops mapping, perception and decision-making software for vehicles and the company last year partnered with the ride-hailing firm Lyft to offer "self-driving rides."
A spokesperson for nuTonomy told the News Service the company has complied with Boston's request to temporarily halt testing on public roads and nuTonomy is working with city officials to "ensure that our automated vehicle pilots continue to adhere to high standards of safety."
The woman who was killed in Tempe, Arizona Sunday night was walking her bicycle across the street when she was struck by a Volvo sport utility in self-drive mode traveling at 40 miles per hour, within the speed limit, according to the New York Times. The Uber vehicle had a "human safety driver" behind the wheel, the newspaper reported.
The National Transportation Safety Board has begun an investigation into the incident, with plans to view dash camera footage and data from the vehicle.
Straus is a member of the state's Autonomous Vehicles Working Group, which he said "remains very active" and he sponsored one of the House bills (H 1897) that he asked to be recommitted to the committee.
Straus's bill permits testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads by manufacturers that have received a certificate from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and requires vehicles to meet certain safety standards. The other bills that Straus asked to be returned to the committee were filed by Spencer Rep. Peter Durant (H 1822), Pittsfield Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier (H 1829), Boston Rep. Aaron Michlewitz (H 2742), Gloucester Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante (H 3422) and Stoneham Rep. Michael Day (H 3417).
The committee had custody of the bills throughout 2017 but was unable to find common ground on policy recommendations and then received an extension from a February 2018 reporting deadline. When the chairmen recommended the bills for study the poll said "given that policy in this area is highly dynamic and continues to rapidly evolve, and as the Governor’s working group is still in the midst of its efforts, the Chairmen wish to convey to the members that these bills will continue to be deliberated and may be recommitted before the end of the session for further action by the Committee."
"It was my expectation that the committee would seek to have the bills recommitted for the purpose of reporting out language before the end of the session, and the committee now hopes to bring that to fruition," Straus wrote on Tuesday.
--Andy Metzger, State House News Service