U.S. spending plan include $100 mln for autonomous cars research, testing

WASHINGTON, March 21 (Reuters) - A spending bill unveiled on Wednesday night includes $100 million for a highly automated “vehicle research and development” program and will include funding for assessing the job impact of self-driving cars.

On Sunday, a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona was struck by an Uber Technologies Inc self-driving SUV and died of her injuries, the first death in a crash involving an autonomous vehicle.

The car sharing service grounded its fleet and has thrown into question when Congress might approve legislation to ease legal hurdles to the deployment of autonomous vehicles.

The new funding includes $60 million for grants “to fund demonstration projects that test the feasibility and safety” of self-driving vehicles, the spending agreement said.

Under the measure, funding will go to automated vehicle proving grounds, local governments or academic institutions but not to private companies.

The funding includes $38 million for U.S. agencies to conduct research into self-driving cars, including cyber-security issues.

The U.S. Transportation Department is “expected to prioritize research topics that fill gaps in research being conducted by the private sector” and “have the strongest potential to advance the safe deployment” of advanced vehicles.

Congress is also setting aside up to $1.5 million to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the impact of self-driving vehicles on U.S. employment, including the potential pace of job losses among truck, taxi and other commercial drivers, as well as the potential safety risks surrounding commercial autonomous vehicles.

Companies including Alphabet Inc’s self-driving car Waymo unit, General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co, Tesla Inc and other are aggressively pursuing automated vehicle technologies.

In January, GM asked the U.S. government to allow a fully autonomous car - one without a steering wheel, brake pedal or accelerator pedal - to enter the automaker’s first commercial ride-sharing fleet in 2019. (Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Grant McCool)