National Highway chief: 'Fully self-driving cars' decades away

National Highway chief: 'Fully self-driving cars' decades away
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The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) stressed to lawmakers on Tuesday that while fully autonomous cars are much further down the road, officials are working hard on cybersecurity concerns and creating a unified regulatory framework before they arrive.

“Fully self-driving cars — we’re a ways off. In the last six months, people are realizing how hard that is,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind told members of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade during a hearing on self-driving cars.

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“There will probably be several decades of a mixed fleet of different levels of automation and people still with their hands on their wheels, that we’ll all be in for at least 20 plus years,” Rosekind added.

Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers President and CEO Mitch Bainwol echoed Rosekind’s long timeframe for fully autonomous cars.

“It’s around the corner, but deployment is going to take two generations. Moody says 2055 before it’s ubiquitous. 2045 before it’s a majority of the fleet,” Bainwol said, referring to a March report.

Rosekind and Bainwol’s estimates contrast with optimistic predictions from Telsa Motors CEO Elon Musk and Lyft President John Zimmer who see autonomous cars hitting the road far sooner.

The NHTSA administrator noted to lawmakers his agency wants to avoid a state-by-state “patchwork” of regulations in the meantime.

“What’s critical right now is to distinguish between the federal role and the state role in making sure that people are making sure that people are focused of the safest possible deployment of national framework [of regulation],” Rosekind told subcommittee members.

“All of us drive across this great country without worrying about what our drivers licenses say or that car is even legal in that state. Just think if a driverless car had to stop in every state,” he added.

The NHTSA head also addressed lawmaker concerns on digital security risks posed by autonomous cars that could be hacked.

“We’ve already had meetings [with the Department of Homeland Security],” Rosekind said. “NHTSA is coordinating with DHS on safety from hacking.”

Vulnerability to hacking amid “the internet of things” has already become an issue in non-autonomous vehicles. In 2015, hackers were able to remotely hack into a car and stop it on a highway.

Tesla updated its cars’ operating system in September after researchers were able to take control of their vehicles. Earlier in the year, the FBI issued a public service announcement warning consumers of cybersecurity risks in their cars.