U.S. Congress will not pass self-driving car bill in 2018: aides

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress will not vote on a bill to speed the introduction of self-driving cars before it adjourns for the year, a blow to companies like General Motors Co and Alphabet Inc’s Waymo unit, congressional aides said on Wednesday.

A sign marks part of a route used to test a driverless electric shuttle at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S. March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Paul Lienert

Nor will Congress take up a proposal pushed by GM and Tesla Inc to extend or expand a $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles, the aides said.

To win passage in the final days, the measures had to be attached to a bill introduced Wednesday to fund government operations through early February, but they were not. Aides concede that the funding bill, which could be approved as early as later today by the U.S. Senate, was the only way forward before Congress adjourned.

Many automaker lobbyists and congressional aides say the measures will face tougher odds in 2019 when Democrats and Republicans will share control of Congress, but automakers plan to keep pushing.

The tax credit for Tesla buyers will fall to $3,750 on Jan. 1 and will phase out entirely by the end of 2019, the Internal Revenue Service said on Friday. Senator John Barrasso a Republican who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has proposed ending the EV tax credit entirely. He said Wednesday he plans to reintroduce the measure in 2019, while automakers plan to keep pressing for extension of the credit.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation in September 2017 to speed the adoption of self-driving cars, but the legislation stalled in the Senate. Despite a series of concessions by automakers, the bill could not overcome objections of some Democrats who said it did not do enough to resolve safety concerns.

Automakers may instead turn to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which has said it plans to make it easier to test self-driving vehicles in the absence of action by Congress.

In October, NHTSA said it was considering a pilot program to allow real-world road testing for a limited number of vehicles without human controls.

Automakers must currently meet nearly 75 auto safety standards, many of them written under the assumption that a licensed driver would be able to control the vehicle using traditional controls.

GM in January filed a petition seeking an exemption to use fully automated vehicles as part of a ride-sharing fleet it plans to deploy in 2019, but the agency has not yet acted on it. On Tuesday, the agency said it was revising its rules to no longer first declare petitions “complete” before publishing a summary of the request.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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