Transportation Dept. Issues Policy To Guide Development, Rollout, Of Driverless Vehicles

Federal regulators have proposed new rules that are designed to help automakers advance driverless cars, indicating that the technology could remove human error, which is the cause of most auto accidents

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a four-part Federal Automated Vehicle Policy on September 20, which is designed to set guidelines for the safe testing, development and roll out of driverless cars.

The four pillars of the policy include a 15-point safety assessment for the design, development, testing and deployment of driverless vehicles; guidelines on federal versus state responsibilities in regulating automated vehicles; how current regulatory rules used by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) can be applied; and policy on new regulatory tools and authorities lawmakers may consider in the future.

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The policy comes in the wake of a March study by DOT, which found that the current Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards are inadequate to address automated vehicle technology. As there are varying levels of automated driving technology being considered, the guidance focuses primarily on highly automated vehicles where control can be transferred fully away from the driver to the vehicle itself at least part of the time.

In addition, the NHTSA is also releasing an enforcement guidance bulletin on how it will handle recalls and safety issues involving this emerging technology. The policy warns that semi-autonomous driving systems that do not factor in the possibility that a distracted driver might not retake control fast enough in an emergency could be defined as unreasonably safe and could face recall.

“Automated vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives, driving the single biggest leap in road safety that our country has ever taken,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a press release. “This policy is an unprecedented step by the federal government to harness the benefits of transformative technology by providing a framework for how to do it safely.”

An industry group called the Self-Driving Coalition praised the guidance, saying it would help spur U.S. competitiveness and innovation in automotive technology. The group, started by Ford, Google, Lyft, Uber and Volvo, said it supports the guidance and calls for standardization of driverless vehicle policy across all 50 states.

“This is an important step forward in establishing the basis of a national framework for the deployment of self-driving vehicles,” the group’s spokesperson and general counsel, David Strickland, said in a press release. “Historically, the U.S. has been a pioneer and world leader in automotive technology. A federal approach to the self-driving industry will be key to enhancing motor vehicle safety while continuing to promote U.S. leadership, competitiveness and innovation.”

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