Senate bill to clear obstacles to self-driving cars advances

Published: Wednesday, October 04, 2017 @ 4:56 AM
Updated: Wednesday, October 04, 2017 @ 4:55 AM


            FILE - In this May 13, 2015, file photo, Google's self-driving Lexus car drives along street during a demonstration at Google campus in Mountain View, Calif. A Senate panel plans to take up a bill Oct. 4, 2017, intended to clear away obstacles to a new era in which cars drive themselves. Safety advocates said it would give automakers free reign to put unsafe vehicles on the road. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)
FILE - In this May 13, 2015, file photo, Google's self-driving Lexus car drives along street during a demonstration at Google campus in Mountain View, Calif. A Senate panel plans to take up a bill Oct. 4, 2017, intended to clear away obstacles to a new era in which cars drive themselves. Safety advocates said it would give automakers free reign to put unsafe vehicles on the road. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)

Legislation that could help usher in a new era of self-driving cars advanced in Congress on Wednesday after the bill's sponsors agreed to compromises to address some concerns of safety advocates.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the bill by a voice vote, a sign of broad, bipartisan support. It would allow automakers to apply for exemptions to current federal auto safety standards in order to sell up to 15,000 self-driving cars and light trucks per manufacturer in the first year after passage. Up to 40,000 per manufacturer could be sold in the second year, and 80,000 each year thereafter.

Action by the full Senate is still needed and differences with a similar bill passed by the House would have to be worked out before the measure could become law.

The bill initially would have allowed manufacturers to sell up to 100,000 self-driving vehicles a year, but that number was reduced in last-minute negotiations. In another change, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would evaluate the safety performance of the vehicles before increasing the number of vehicles manufacturers can sell.

Supporters of the bill, which was sought by the auto industry, say it would be a boon to safety since an estimated 94 percent of crashes involve human error. They say it would also help the disabled.

The bill "is primarily about saving lives," but it will also increase U.S. international competitiveness and create jobs, said Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan.

Safety advocates said the bill has been significantly improved, but they still have serious concerns. Joan Claybrook, a NHTSA administrator under President Jimmy Carter, said the bill is one of the "biggest assaults" ever on the landmark 1966 law that empowered the federal government to set auto safety standards because it permits such large and unprecedented number of exemptions to those standards.

Automakers are "making guinea pigs out of their car buyers," she said.

Under the bill, the NHTSA would have 180 days after an application in which to grant or deny the exemption. Manufacturers must show that they can provide an equivalent of safety. Safety advocates say six months isn't enough time for an agency that is undermanned and lacks expertise in self-driving technology to effectively make such determinations.

The bill is broad enough to permit exemptions to standards that protect occupants in a crash, like air bags, safety advocates said.

There are no federal safety standards for many of the technologies at the heart of self-driving cars, like software and sensors, and there is no sign that the Trump administration would create such standards. Administration and auto and technology industry officials suggest that new regulations would be unable to keep up with rapid developments in technology and would slow deployment of self-driving cars.

The bill pre-empts state and local governments from enacting their own safety standards in the absence of federal standards. Industry officials have complained that being forced to comply with a patchwork of state safety laws would be unmanageable. But another compromise made to the bill allows states to continue their traditional roles of licensing vehicles and regulating auto insurance even if their actions affect the design of vehicles. Wrongful death lawsuits against manufacturers would also be allowed in states that permit them.

Automakers have experienced the largest number of recalls for safety defects in the industry's history in recent years. General Motors, for example, was found to have buried evidence of an ignition switch defect that ultimately caused the recall of 2.6 million small cars worldwide. The switches played a role in at least 124 deaths and 275 injuries.

Also, about 70 million defective Takata air bag inflators are being recalled in the U.S. The inflators are responsible for up to 19 deaths worldwide and more than 180 injures.

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AP Auto Writer Tom Krisher contributed to this report from Detroit.

‘Underwear bomber’ sues US government over treatment in prison

Published: Saturday, October 21, 2017 @ 1:22 AM

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was convicted in 2012.
U.S. Marshals Office
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was convicted in 2012.(U.S. Marshals Office)

The “underwear bomber” has filed legal briefs against the United States government, protesting his treatment in federal prison.

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Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria, who is serving life sentences after his conviction for his failed attempted to set off a bomb on an international flight near Detroit in 2009, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, CBS News reported.

Abdulmutallab cited violations of his First, Fifth and Eighth Amendment rights, and claims his rights also were violated under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

On Christmas Day in 2009, Abdulmutallab tried to blow up an international flight -- with a bomb sewn into his underwear -- bound from Amsterdam to Detroit on behalf of al Qaeda, Reuters reported. He had called his attempt part of his “religious duty” as a Muslim to wage jihad against the United States.

Abdulmutallab, 30, who has been in federal custody since the failed bombing attempt, is serving four terms of life imprisonment plus 50 years, The Denver Post reported. He was convicted in 2012 on charges including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction on a commercial airliner. The Northwest Airlines flight had 289 passengers on board.

In a lawsuit filed in a Colorado federal court Wednesday, Abdulmutallab said authorities in a maximum security prison were violating his constitutional rights by holding him in long-term solitary confinement under Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), CBS News reported.

According to the complaint, “The SAMs imposed on Mr. Abdulmutallab prohibit him from having any communication whatsoever with more than 7.5 billion people, the vast majority of people on the planet.”

Abdulmutallab’s SAMs “severely restrict his ability to practice his religion,” the complaint alleges. Abdulmutallab, a Muslim, is not allowed to “participate in group prayer.”

The lawsuit accused the staff at the United States Penitentiary-Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado of repeatedly force feeding Abdulmutallab during a hunger strike using “excessively and unnecessarily painful” methods, Reuters reported.

White supremacist inmates were also permitted to harass him during prayer times, according to the lawsuit.

“Prisoners retain fundamental constitutional rights to communicate with others and have family relationships free from undue interference by the government,” Abdulmutallab’s attorney, Gail Johnson, said in a statement to the New York Times.

“The restrictions imposed on our client are excessive and unnecessary, and therefore we seek the intervention of the federal court.”

Massachusetts man arrested for dragging badly beaten dog

Published: Saturday, October 21, 2017 @ 1:40 AM

Pit bull.
AFP Contributor/AFP/Getty Images
Pit bull.(AFP Contributor/AFP/Getty Images)

A Massachusetts man accused of beating a dog so severely it was coughing blood and limping was arrested for animal cruelty, authorities said. 

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Police say, Mark Rodney Hurd, 22, of Everett left the dog in critical condition Friday. Officers said they arrived at a home to find Hurd dragging the pit bull down the driveway after the abuse had been reported to them. 

“It's extremely disappointing to see this type of violence perpetrated on an animal especially a domesticated pet,” Everett police Chief Steven Mazzie said. “The Everett Police Department takes these cases seriously and would like to remind the public to report abuse of this type if they witness it.”

Neighbors said the dog, Chance, is “docile and friendly.” Others said they were awakened Friday morning by the commotion at the house. 

Chance was rushed to a veterinary hospital for emergency treatment, police said.

Hurd is being held without bail as the abuse charges have been added onto a probation violation. 

Court: Cross shaped monument honoring WWI vets ruled unconstitutional

Published: Saturday, October 21, 2017 @ 5:06 AM

An Eternal Flame monument dedicated to World War I casualties.
Harvey Meston/Getty Images
An Eternal Flame monument dedicated to World War I casualties.(Harvey Meston/Getty Images)

A 40-foot Latin cross-shaped monument in Maryland, built nearly a century ago to honor soldiers who died during World War I, has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court, CNN reported

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The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday by a 2-1 margin that the 92-year-old structure was in violation of the First Amendment because it is on public land at a busy intersection in Prince George's County and is maintained with government funds. The court's decision does not address whether the monument should be removed or modified.

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the American Legion, who were named as defendants in the case, argued that the cross had a nonreligious purpose “does not have the primary effect of endorsing religion.”

But the appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, sided 2-1 with the American Humanist Association, an organization that advocates for secularism and represented several non-Christian residents of Prince George's County.

The memorial was completed in 1925 using contributions from private donors and the American Legion. It was acquired in 1961 by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

If the Supreme Court declines to hear the case, a district court judge would have to decide whether to order the removal of the cross, said David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association.

"It's hard to think of remedies other than removal," Niose told CNN, though he said there is the "possibility of modifying the structure."

Honolulu bans smokers in cars when children are present

Published: Saturday, October 21, 2017 @ 5:55 AM

Smoking while driving is now illegal in Honolulu if there are minors in the vehicle.
Heritage Images/Getty Images
Smoking while driving is now illegal in Honolulu if there are minors in the vehicle.(Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Smoking in a car in Honolulu can bring a hefty fine if there are children in the vehicle, KHON reported.

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In a unanimous vote Wednesday, the Honolulu City Council passed a bill that would make it illegal to smoke in a vehicle if someone under 18 is in inside. The ban also extends to electronic cigarettes, KHON reported.

First offenders would be fined $100, and the fee jumps to $200 if a smoker is cited within a year. A third offense within a year of the second offense would cost the smoker $500, KHON reported. 

The ticket would be issued to the person smoking in the vehicle.

Lila Johnson, program manager for tobacco prevention at the Department of Health, says youths are the most vulnerable to be exposed to secondhand smoke.

“It is probably 10 times as toxic as it is to be sitting inside a smoky bar for a child to be sitting inside a confined unit exposed to secondhand smoke,” Johnson said.

Health officials said drivers are permitted to smoke as long as there are no minor in the vehicle, KHON reported.