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A U.S. Senate bill aiming to pave the way for the development of driverless vehicles is a threat to highway safety, the group Consumer Watchdog asserted.

The bill, introduced by Sens. John Thune and Gary Peters, “follows the dangerous route chosen by the House of Representatives when it rushed to pass a bill that threatens highway safety and leaves a regulatory void rather than enacting necessary protections and safety standards,” Consumer Watchdog said in a news release.

The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to consider the bipartisan “American Vision for Safer Transportation Through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies” (“AV START”) Act on Oct. 4.

“Bipartisanship is worthless when it produces a dangerous bill,” asserted John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director.

The bill preempts any state-level safety standards, even though there are none in place at the national level, creating a “Wild West without adequate safety protections for consumers,” Consumer Watchdog said.

“Preempting the states’ ability to fill the void left by federal inaction leaves us at the mercy of manufacturers as they use our public highways as their private laboratories however they wish with no safety protections at all,” Simpson said. “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration needs do its job and Congress should give the agency the money to do it. The sad reality is that President Trump hasn’t even bothered to nominate a NHTSA administrator.”

On Sept. 12, NHTSA issued new guidance on the development of driverless vehicles. Consumer Watchdog lamented that the voluntary guidance “doesn’t require the automakers to do anything at all.”

The group also voiced concern that the Advisory Committee on Automation in Transportation, created by President Obama, has not met since Trump took office.

Developers of self-driving vehicles have complained that the state-by-state patchwork of conflicting safety regulations would hamper innovation. Simpson called that “nonsense.”

“If NHTSA enacted Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards covering autonomous vehicles, they would automatically preempt state safety regulations,” Simpson asserted. “The Senate bill is nothing more than showboating that actually puts consumers at risk.”

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