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House lawmakers just took the next step toward allowing more self-driving cars on U.S. roads

A key congressional committee voted favorably on the measure, and now it’s up to the full House to decide.

Two self-driving cars, one from Way and one from Uber Waymo, Uber

A bill that would allow companies like Ford, Google and Uber to more easily test and deploy self-driving cars on U.S. roads inched ahead in Congress on Thursday, after House lawmakers voted to send it to the full chamber for consideration.

It’s still far from becoming law, but its Democratic and Republican authors on the supportive House Energy and Commerce Committee believe their rare bipartisan proposal has a shot at success — despite tougher-than-ever partisan divisions on Capitol Hill.

As it stands, the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act — roughly abbreviated as the SELF DRIVE Act — would allow companies over time to test as many as 100,000 highly autonomous vehicles in the United States.

To do it, tech and auto giants would have to prove to the U.S. government that their self-driving technology is just as safe as old-fashioned cars currently on the country’s roads. In exchange, the Department of Transportation can exempt those autonomous vehicles from some federal safety requirements — including, potentially, rules that require them to have steering wheels.

At the same time, the bill kicks off a process at the agency to rethink its federal motor vehicle safety standards across the board to see which safeguards make the most sense in a new, automated age. And the legislation bars states from imposing their own regulations targeting the design and operation of driverless cars, as well as their software. States do appear to retain some ability, however, to restrict autonomous vehicles on their public roadways.

In many ways, the measure marks a major victory for companies like Apple, Ford, Lyft, Google, GM and Uber, which have lobbied extensively around the country for greater ability to test — and perhaps, someday, market — cars that can drive themselves.

To be sure, they’ll have to adhere to some new federal regulations if the House committee’s just-passed bill becomes law. That includes submitting more safety assessments to the feds, while boosting their vehicles’ cyber-security defenses and publishing policies that detail the data they collect on drivers and their trips.

But the proposal still would spare the nascent self-driving car industry from a patchwork of overlapping state rules, given that 20 states already have their own driverless car laws on local rulebooks.

Its fate going forward, however, is another question entirely.

Despite full House committee support on Thursday, it still has to come to the chamber floor for a vote. One hasn’t yet been scheduled. The Senate has also expressed interest in the issue, but lawmakers there haven’t formally introduced a bill. It means the issue could easily slip into next year if the historically slow-moving Congress finds itself in another legislative logjam.


This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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