Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) smacked down her former Silicon Valley allies this week by blocking a federal deregulation that would have expedited the testing of self-driving cars.
Feinstein, as a 25-year California Democrat incumbent and the ranking minority Mmember of the Senate Judiciary Committee used her prerogative to block the “AV START Act,” which would have set up a friendly federal transportation regulatory structure to circumvent local restrictions for testing autonomous (self-driving) cars on America’s public roads.
Proponents of the bill thought they had bipartisan Congressional and White House support to expedite passage, due to the all-out efforts from hundreds of lobbyists representing 64 Silicon Valley companies, including big venture capital back start-ups and tech giants such as Alphabet, Apple, Tesla, and Uber.
Intel and Strategy Analytics presented an economic white paper in support of the federal takeover that forecast autonomous vehicles would generate $4 trillion from ride-hailing and $3 trillion from delivery and business logistics by 2050.
An analysis of U.S. Patent and Trademark Office data presented by L.E.K. Consulting revealed that American companies since 2007 have filed over 2,118 autonomous vehicle technology patents. Many filings are for Lidar laser sensors, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, image processing, computer vision, and advanced driver-assistance.
With a similar bill unanimously passing the House of Representatives in September, the Senate version was introduced on September 28 and moved through the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on November 28.
For her first 24 years in the U.S. Senate, Feinstein was viewed as a tireless advocate for Silicon Valley tech initiatives. But on November 1, Feinstein, threatened Silicon Valley executives that Congress would do something about foreign interference in elections through social media, if the tech industry failed to act.
Feinstein told general counsels from Facebook, Google, and Twitter at a Senate Hearing: “I must say, I don’t think you get it.” She argued that tech company platforms were responsible for foreign powers being able to use cyber-warfare during the 2016 presidential election to sow conflict and discontent all over the country.
Democrat Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna told the San Jose Mercury News that the 85-year-old Feinstein, as the oldest member of the U.S. Senate, does not represent progressive values on key issues including privacy, encryption, “Medicare for All,” and the new innovation economy.
Feinstein was also humiliated at the California Democrat Party Convention in late February, when she only received endorsement support for a fifth term from 37 percent of delegates; while California State Senate majority leader Kevin de León won 54 percent.
It is unclear if Senator Feinstein deliberately retaliated against Silicon Valley and its social justice warrior fellow travelers for failing to support her re-election effort. But Feinstein did rally several senior Democratic Senators, who now claim self-driving car technology is too unproven for a national roll-out through a federal takeover.
Feinstein’s opposition to allowing national driverless car tests carries extra Congressional weight, since the State of California has allowed testing on public roads since September 2014.
What had seemed like at least an easy victory for Silicon Valley now is rated at just a 32 percent chance of enactment, according to Skopos Labs.