Feds set to unveil self-driving car guidelines

Feds set to unveil self-driving car guidelines
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The Department of Transportation (DOT) will unveil highly anticipated guidelines on Tuesday that establish a national framework for the operation and deployment of self-driving vehicles.

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The policy plan outlined by the administration on Monday evening does not include stringent requirements, but instead offers a more flexible approach for automakers and tech companies pursuing the emerging technology, according to a fact sheet released in advance by the White House.

Officials said they were striving to strike the right balance between innovation and safety in crafting the framework for driverless cars, which they praised for their ability to save lives, improve mobility and reduce traffic and fuel use.

In an op-ed published Monday night in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump questions Kavanaugh accuser's account | Accuser may testify Thursday | Midterm blame game begins Dems look to Gillum, Abrams for pathway to victory in tough states Ford taps Obama, Clinton alum to navigate Senate hearing MORE wrote about the new guidelines. 

“In the seven-and-a-half years of my presidency, self-driving cars have gone from sci-fi fantasy to an emerging reality with the potential to transform the way we live,” he wrote.

“Safer, more accessible driving. Less congested, less polluted roads. That’s what harnessing technology for good can look like. But we have to get it right. Americans deserve to know they’ll be safe today even as we develop and deploy the technologies of tomorrow.”

Obama acknowledged that, “Regulation can go too far. Government sometimes gets it wrong when it comes to rapidly changing technologies.” He said that’s why the new policy “is flexible and designed to evolve with new advances.”

“This is a change of culture for us,” DOT Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxGeorgia Power says electricity at Atlanta airport will likely be restored by midnight Ex-Obama transportation chief on Atlanta airport power outage: 'Total and abject failure' To address America's crumbling infrastructure, follow Britain's lead MORE said on a press call with reporters. “It’s really creating… a more open-ended approach than we typically would.”

The guidance will include a 15-point “safety assessment” that outlines the federal expectations for the design, testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles and asks manufacturers and developers to document how they are meeting each topic area.


Foxx said that unlike the traditional rigid standards for automobiles, regulators will determine whether driverless vehicles are meeting their safety and design expectations on a more case-by-case basis in an effort to give companies more room for innovation.

“Typically, we’d say a car has to meet X standard in a certain way”, Foxx said. With automated vehicles, however, “we recognize there’s going to be different types of innovation and we intend to evaluate each of those on their own terms.”

The second component of the guidance seeks to clarify the state role versus the federal role in overseeing self-driving cars, a largely murky area that has sparked some concern among automakers and tech companies.

The plan will recommend a slate of specific policy areas and general responsibilities for states that will mostly pertain to issues related to human drivers of autonomous vehicles, such as licensing, insurance and liability.

But the framework envisions the federal government as having primary control over the actual automation software.

It is unclear whether federal law would preempt state laws that attempt to regulate the automation aspect of the technology.

“What we are trying to do is avoid a patchwork of state laws,” Foxx said. “Part of what we are doing with this policy is we are saying when software is operating the vehicle, that is an area we intend to regulate.”

The plan also highlights current regulatory tools that the DOT has at its disposal to promote the safe creation and deployment of driverless vehicles — such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s enforcement authority — and identifies a basket of new tools that the agency may consider pursuing.

Officials will seek public feedback on the guidelines, which the DOT plans to update annually. The agency also is planning to propose a rule requiring all new vehicles to be equipped with a technology that enables them to talk to one another and suggest best practices for cyber security in vehicles.

“This is not the last step on autonomous vehicles,” Foxx said. “But we do expect this framework will hold up over the long-term, and evolve over the long-term.”

Updated 8:50 p.m.