The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) applauds Senators John Thune, Gary Peters, Roy Blunt, and Debbie Stabenow for introducing the American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act (S. 1885). This groundbreaking bipartisan bill was passed out of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation this morning, and includes many specific provisions drafted by AFB that address our concerns about the earlier House version of the bill. Among other key components, the senate bill would:
- Establish a working group to develop best practices in the design and deployment of highly automated vehicles to ensure their accessibility to people with disabilities (including people with sensory disabilities through accessible user interfaces, as well as those who rely on mobility devices)
- Ensure that drivers' licensing requirements cannot discriminate on the basis of disability
The legislation does not create new federal regulations but a process for tackling issues.
"This is how the policy process should work," said Mark Richert, Policy Director for AFB. "If we're going to make the dream of driverless cars a reality for people with vision loss and so many others, we need to get rolling right now to get rid of any avoidable technological or legal obstacles—and that's what this bill does."
While automated vehicles are no longer brand-new technology, we are still in the very early days of what they will mean for ordinary drivers. The technical, safety, and legal issues are in some sense a moving target, since the technology is evolving so rapidly. AFB is heartened that accessibility issues are being included at the beginning of the process, when they can be most effectively addressed. Especially as companies start contemplating mass production of autonomous vehicles, what design changes will work for the most people?
To ensure the best possible access and safety features, it is critical that disability advocates and accessibility experts be part of the working group tackling the issues. AFB is proud to continue working side-by-side with our partners in the disability community as well as legislators, auto companies, and driverless car developers to perfect the technology standards and policies that put autonomous vehicles on the road.