The Government Is Getting Ready for the Driverless-Car Era

Google's new self-driving prototype car is presented during a demonstration at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif.

Google's new self-driving prototype car is presented during a demonstration at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif. Tony Avelar/AP File Photo

New DOT policies will make it easier for autonomous cars to hit the road.

With com­pan­ies from Gen­er­al Mo­tors and Ford to Google and Apple work­ing on tech­no­logy that could re­move the hu­man factor from driv­ing, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is start­ing to catch up.

In an ap­pear­ance at the North Amer­ic­an In­ter­na­tion­al Auto Show in De­troit, Trans­port­a­tion Sec­ret­ary An­thony Foxx de­tailed a 10-year in­vest­ment of nearly $4 bil­lion to smooth the trans­ition to autonom­ous vehicles. Flanked by ex­ec­ut­ives from Google, GM, Tesla, and oth­er auto­makers, Foxx said that driver­less cars had enorm­ous po­ten­tial “to save lives, re­duce green­house gas emis­sions, and trans­form mo­bil­ity for the Amer­ic­an people.”

“We are bullish on auto­mated vehicles,” Foxx said, adding that the ad­min­is­tra­tion would do what it could this year to get the tech­no­logy out there. 

The an­nounce­ment Thursday up­dates a 2013 policy is­sued by the Na­tion­al High­way Traffic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion to state that wide­spread de­ploy­ment of driver­less cars is now feas­ible. The pre­vi­ous guid­ance laid out some early defin­i­tions of autonom­ous driv­ing, but con­ceded that it was “too soon to reach con­clu­sions about the feas­ib­il­ity of pro­du­cing a vehicle that can safely op­er­ate in a fully auto­mated (or ‘driver­less’) mode in all driv­ing en­vir­on­ments and traffic scen­ari­os.”

With tech­no­logy mov­ing rap­idly—auto­makers have said they could have fully autonom­ous cars on the roads by 2020 and already some vehicles have sys­tems like self-park­ing and lane as­sist—the ad­min­is­tra­tion is now mak­ing sure it won’t stand in the way.

The de­part­ment will “con­sider seek­ing new au­thor­it­ies” that could en­sure autonom­ous vehicles are al­low­able if they can show an equi­val­ent or high­er level of safety than cur­rently avail­able, let­ting them on the road even as the gov­ern­ment reg­u­lat­ory pro­cess moves at its own pace. Man­u­fac­tur­ers will also be able to re­quest ex­emp­tion au­thor­ity to de­ploy new autonom­ous fea­tures. 

Foxx also an­nounced that over the next six months, NHTSA will work with in­dustry and oth­er stake­hold­ers to set new test­ing and ana­lys­is meth­ods for autonom­ous vehicles. At the same time, the agency will work with state trans­port­a­tion and mo­tor vehicle de­part­ments to de­vel­op a mod­el state policy, which could be used to form na­tion­al policy.

That re­view could help the DOT de­term­ine wheth­er new laws are needed on trans­port­a­tion, Foxx said. 

Autonom­ous vehicles have the po­ten­tial to com­pletely over­turn the trans­port­a­tion sys­tem—put­ting more cars on the road with few­er ac­ci­dents and less con­ges­tion—but there’s been con­cern about how the gov­ern­ment will reg­u­late the new tech­no­logy.  

Policy on autonom­ous vehicles had largely been driv­en at the state level, if at all, so the DOT an­nounce­ment was wel­come news to an in­dustry look­ing for some fed­er­al struc­ture. In an Oc­to­ber speech, Volvo CEO Håkan Samuels­son said the “ab­sence of one set of rules means car makers can­not con­duct cred­ible tests to de­vel­op cars that meet all the dif­fer­ent guidelines of all 50 US states.”

“The U.S. risks los­ing its lead­ing po­s­i­tion due to the lack of fed­er­al guidelines for the test­ing and cer­ti­fic­a­tion of autonom­ous vehicles,” he said.

The con­cern about a state-by-state patch­work came in­to sharp fo­cus in Decem­ber when the state of Cali­for­nia re­leased draft reg­u­la­tions re­quir­ing all autonom­ous cars to have a steer­ing wheel and ped­als to al­low a hu­man driver to take over. That would have barred the kind of hands-free car that Google is work­ing on in the state.

The five-year trans­port­a­tion bill passed by Con­gress in Novem­ber con­tained very little spe­cif­ic guid­ance on driver­less vehicles, al­though it did draw up a new in­nov­a­tion title to study driver­less vehicles and set up a new $75 mil­lion an­nu­al grant pro­gram for the tech­no­logy. In draft­ing the bill, mem­bers said they wanted to foster new tech­no­logy, but without pre­script­ive lan­guage that could ham­string the in­dustry.

Ac­cord­ing to the Trans­port­a­tion De­part­ment, Pres­id­ent Obama’s fisc­al 2017 budget pro­pos­al, set to be re­leased on Feb. 9, will of­fer nearly $3.9 bil­lion over the next dec­ade for pi­lot pro­grams to test vehicles that op­er­ate without drivers, or vehicles that can com­mu­nic­ate with each oth­er and in­fra­struc­ture to help ease traffic prob­lems.

Speak­ing at a con­fer­ence in Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day, Foxx noted the po­ten­tial chal­lenges of the new tech­no­logy, since the “pace of change is go­ing to be faster in the 21st cen­tury than in the 20th.”

“I don’t want us to be stuck in a place where tech­no­lo­gies are put through our paces on a 3- to 4-year win­dow be­cause you could be two or three gen­er­a­tions in­to that tech­no­logy in terms of cap­ab­il­ity, and the first gen­er­a­tion can’t reach the mar­ket yet,” he said at the Trans­port­a­tion Re­view Board’s an­nu­al con­fer­ence.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.