Autonomous Vehicles Get Ready to Start, But NSPE Urges Delay

September/October 2018

NSPE Today: Policy Perspectives
Autonomous Vehicles Get Ready to Start, But NSPE Urges Delay


With midterm elections approaching, the US Senate is pushing to quickly establish federal autonomous vehicle standards. One of its strategies has been to attach the pending AV START Act (S. 1885) to other legislation, including the bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. If enacted, the AV bill would allow the Department of Transportation to exempt as many as 100,000 autonomous vehicles per manufacturer from federal safety regulations.

NSPE has been a leading advocate for placing the public health, safety, and welfare first, and requiring a licensed professional engineer to play a key role in the development, testing, and safety certification of autonomous vehicles. In March, NSPE released a policy guide that provides public policy decision makers, regulators, manufacturers, and others with guidelines to measure the safety readiness of autonomous vehicles. NSPE’s goal is to encourage public and private stakeholders to meaningfully collaborate to ensure the safe and successful implementation of AV technology for the public’s benefit.

Last year, NSPE and its members were also active on federal autonomous vehicle legislation. When the House of Representatives was considering the SELF DRIVE Act (H.R. 3388), more than 700 NSPE members contacted nearly 300 House offices to oppose the bill.

As the policy discussion has moved into the Senate, NSPE has submitted letters to all senators explaining that the AV START Act fails to address the major safety, technological, and ethical challenges that must be considered before these vehicles are deployed. Thus, NSPE urges the Senate to delay action and revise the legislation to provide appropriate safeguards, sufficient accountability, and the necessary security measures to prevent hacking before allowing deployment of highly automated vehicles.

NSPE also signed onto a letter by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety opposing attaching the AV START Act to an unrelated bill. In the letter, NSPE and several consumer, public health, and safety groups urge lawmakers to not create “artificial urgency” to pass legislation without adding sufficient safeguards. As the letter states, “The AV START Act will likely set policy on driverless cars for decades to come. As such, comprehensive safeguards, sufficient government oversight, and industry accountability are essential. The bill, in its current form, fails to provide these minimal safety protections.”

While the outcome of the bill is unclear at press time, NSPE will continue to proactively advocate for the role of the PE in ensuring the public health, safety, and welfare is of paramount importance in the deployment of highly automated vehicles.

John Keane is NSPE’s policy and advocacy associate.

NSPE Takes Licensing Fight to Congress

From the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration, some federal officials have seen licensing laws as a barrier to opportunity and have looked for ways to encourage states to reign in their growth. This has led Congress to further investigate the potential to reform occupational licensure.

In June, NSPE and the American Council of Engineering Companies submitted testimony to members of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development as it investigates the prevalence of occupational licensing, its effects on economic growth and upward mobility, and what is being done to address those and other issues within states and across state borders.

The joint NSPE-ACEC letter acknowledged “the House subcommittee’s interest in reviewing licensing requirements for various occupations to ensure a proper balance between the free flow of commerce and the need to protect the public interest.” However, the letter noted that “if this effort weakens the stringent standards that apply to professional engineers who design solutions to many of society’s most pressing challenges, this balance will be disrupted, and the public interest will be compromised.”

NSPE has been a leading force against the growing antioccupational licensure movement, educating policymakers and the public about the critical need for licensure for a learned profession that, above all else, must protect the public health, safety, and welfare. At the federal level, NSPE will continue to vigorously advocate for professional engineer licensure as well as promote awareness and recognition of its value.

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