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Self-Driving Cars Shift into Gear on Capitol Hill: AFB Urges Prompt Senate Action to Overtake House Passage of Legislative Lemon

For further information, contact:

Mark Richert, Esq.
Director, Public Policy, AFB
202) 469-6833
MRichert@AFB.net

September 6, 2017, 12:30pm ET

Moments ago by voice vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3388, the so-called SELF-DRIVE Act, legislation intended to spur innovation in the autonomous vehicle industry through an extensive array of incentives and loosening of federal safety standards.

However, in the lead up to today's overwhelming bipartisan support for H.R. 3388, key members and staff in both major political parties managing the bill rejected calls from the disability community to include critical provisions in the bill to ensure that people with disabilities, including people who are blind, visually impaired or deafblind, will not face needless technological or state policy barriers to their ultimate full enjoyment of autonomous vehicles.

This morning, AFB wrote to the membership of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation urging continued work and prompt action on a more responsive and inclusive version of autonomous vehicle legislation currently in draft form. Advocates are concerned that House passage of H.R. 3388 may invite Senators to conclude that work on the key components of such legislation is largely complete.

The text of AFB's Senate Commerce Committee letter follows:


September 6, 2017

The Honorable John Thune
Chairman
U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and
Transportation
511 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Bill Nelson
Ranking Member
U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and
Transportation
716 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Re: Support for Senate Commerce Committee autonomous vehicle legislation; insufficiency of H.R. 3388.

Dear Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson:

On behalf of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and the more than 23 million adult Americans living with vision loss for whom, following Helen Keller's legacy, we advocate for a world with no limits, I write to urge your continued leadership in refining and speedily acting upon autonomous vehicle legislation which truly meets the needs, and acknowledges the capabilities, of people with disabilities, including people who are blind, visually impaired, or deafblind. It has been our privilege to work closely with your staff this year to develop draft bipartisan legislation which we believe meets these critical criteria, and we urge the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation to complete this work and act promptly and favorably on the bill.

In a world with no limits, people with vision loss will be able to benefit from the independence, employment opportunity, self-determination, social participation and mobility that so-called driverless cars have to offer. However, this will only happen if we act now to clear the public policy roadway of readily removable technological obstructions and the debris of disability stereotypes and misconceptions that are currently in the way. The legislation that we have been working with your staff to develop will, we believe, address these most critical policy challenges in the autonomous vehicle space for people with disabilities.

In order to have meaningful access to autonomous vehicles, people with disabilities must be able to enter, maneuver within, and exit vehicles, and they must be able to properly interact with vehicles' user interface and related features. Additionally, in carrying out their traditional role to set the minimum requirements for and limits on driver licensure, states must do their part to exercise such authority untainted by paternalism or outmoded stereotypes and in a manner that ensures full and equal protection of the constitutional right of all people with disabilities to travel. Thanks to the leadership which you and your staff have been demonstrating in the development of your autonomous vehicle legislation, these matters are on the right road toward the deliberation and consensus building upon which sound public policy making depends.

While, as of this writing, the House is expected to take immediate action on its approach to autonomous vehicle legislation (H.R. 3388), we nevertheless urge you to press ahead with the development and consideration of a measure that more appropriately responds to the disability community and that clearly tackles the most significant policy barriers. Unlike the approach which you and your staff have been developing, H.R. 3388 makes mere cursory reference to disability-related concerns and provides little incentive for support from our community given its hesitance to address the most critical issues through a well-defined, outcomes oriented process. It is also particularly disappointing, and a bit disturbing, to see some leading proponents of H.R. 3388 playing heartstrings and emotionally exploiting the bill's alleged tremendous promise for people with disabilities while H.R. 3388's disability-related provisions, such as they are, remain so vacuous. What an incredible missed opportunity that has left people with disabilities hitch hiking for a legislative vehicle heading in the right direction.

Again, thank you for your much-needed leadership, and we continue to stand ready to be of assistance to you and your staff to put well-crafted public policy before the Senate that both accelerates industry innovation and turbocharges the independence of people with disabilities.

Sincerely,

Mark Richert, Esq.
Director, Public Policy
American Foundation for the Blind
(202) 469-6833
MRichert@AFB.net

cc: Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

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