US moves to regulate self-driving cars

A pilot model of an Uber self-driving car goes down a street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
A pilot model of an Uber self-driving car goes down a street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The United States unveiled a sweeping new regulatory framework for the unexpectedly rapid rise of self-driving automobile technology, just days after Uber broke ground with its first driverless taxis.

US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the federal government intends to set the safety standards for cars of the future where no human is involved in the driving, even while individual states still regulate cars with humans behind the wheel.

But some of the rules will extend to advanced driver-assistance systems, like those in Teslas, that can handle significant levels of driving even while demanding a person stay at the wheel of the car, officials said.

Announcing a 15-point safety assessment for driverless car systems, Foxx stressed that the government wants to work with developers—which include most large automakers as well as tech giants such as Uber and Alphabet (Google)—without stifling their efforts.

"This area we recognize as an evolving area. This is an emerging technology," he announced.

Software at the wheel

Foxx pointed out that drivers and cars have long been regulated by individual states in a "patchwork" of laws.

"The dynamic with the autonomous car is that the software is now operating the vehicle. And... when the software is operating the vehicle, that is an area that we intend to regulate."

Self-drive car
Self-drive car

The 15 points by which driverless cars, or "highly automated vehicles" (HAVs), will be judged, include:

- the vehicle's perception and response functionality

- how well the cars manage in case of technical failures

- data recording and information sharing capabilities

- user privacy

- security from hacking

Also on the list are "ethical considerations," how self-driving vehicles are programmed to handle conflict dilemmas on the road. Programmers are wrestling, for example, with the reaction a self-driving car should have when, for instance, it is faced with the limited choice of smashing into a loaded bus on one side or a bicyclist on the other.

The United States has unveiled a sweeping new regulatory framework for the unexpectedly rapid onset of self-driving automobile t
The United States has unveiled a sweeping new regulatory framework for the unexpectedly rapid onset of self-driving automobile technology

Eager to accelerate

Jeff Zients, director of the White House's National Economic Council, said the government is strongly behind the development of autonomous vehicles.

"Automated vehicles will save Americans time, money and lives, and that's why we are putting out the rules of the road for self-driving cars. So they can get on the road as quickly, and as safely, as possible," he said.

Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, founding members of which include Ford, Google, Lyft, Uber and Volvo, called the regulatory framework "an important first step: in the deployment of autonomous cars.

"A federal approach to the self-driving industry will be key to enhancing motor vehicle safety while continuing to promote US leadership, competitiveness and innovation," coalition general counsel David Strickland said in a release.

The coalition supports guidelines that standardize self-driving regulations across the country, avoiding confusion and lost industry momentum that would be cause by rules that vary from state to state.

The group also advocates for regulation that incentivizes innovation, and supports rapid testing and deployment in the real world.

"We look forward to continued collaboration with NHTSA and other federal and state policymakers to further develop the national framework for safe and timely deployment that avoids a patchwork of requirements that could inhibit self-driving vehicle development and operations," Strickland said.


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User comments

Sep 20, 2016
Foxx pointed out that drivers and cars have long been regulated by individual states in a "patchwork" of laws.

"The dynamic with the autonomous car is that the software is now operating the vehicle. And... when the software is operating the vehicle, that is an area that we intend to regulate."


The intent is clearly stated, but how the Federal Government intends to wrest control of state laws and regulations over vehicles, licensure, insurance and operational standards from the states is not at all clear.

Sep 20, 2016
If you read the actual document, they don't 'intend to wrest control of state laws ... over vehicles, licensure, insurance.' The document clearly spells out existing state responsibilities as well as the proposed federal ones.
Here's a copy of it: https://www.docum...icy.html

Sep 20, 2016
shavera,
You should read your link. Yes, it states that the states will retain regulation of aspects of vehicle use, but immediately afterward states the intent of the Federal Government to seize regulatory authority.

Read again Foxx's quote above, particularly this part:
And... when the software is operating the vehicle, that is an area that we intend to regulate."

Sep 20, 2016
My understanding from Shavera's link is that the states will hold licensing and insurance controls, but the feds will control the setting of safety standards and controlling recalls. The feds will regulate the safety issues so there is a nationwide common standard, because otherwise it could turn in to the mess that is concealed carry in the US. Would stink to have a car you can't drive across the state border, right?

Sep 20, 2016
As is usual, the Federal government is starting with voluntary "guidelines". These will soon become regulations. The clear intent is to wrest control from the states. There is no legal basis for the federal government to usurp the states control, but that is the implied and stated intent.

All the states set their own standards now. There is no problem driving across state lines in the current system. Why should there be a problem with automated systems?

Sep 20, 2016
http://www.nhtsa....t/FMVSS/
The feds already control safety regulations and requirements for cars. Different states can require different inspections of certain systems to actually get your car registered, but safety is all federal. I am not sure what you are trying to get at here.

Sep 20, 2016
691boat,
States currently decide what vehicles can receive tags to operate on their roads and determine which of their population can receive or be denied licensure to operate a vehicle. The Federal government is plainly signaling that they intend to make those determinations instead of the states.

Sep 20, 2016
I have not seen anything that points to the feds wanting to completely take over licensing. The feds can and do right now have some control of that via the safety regulations, and intend to maintain that level. From what I understand, the concern is ensuring all the autonomous systems are inherently safe enough to be operated anywhere by anyone, hence by ensuring that all safety standards are met when they come off the production floor. If you really believe that the DMV is going to be over-run by the feds, more power to ya. Watch out, they might take all your guns next time you renew your tags.

Sep 20, 2016
691boat,
When the Federal government moves this from recommendations to regulations, they will be usurping the states ability to regulate. If the Federal government deems Tesla or Google cars, for example, to be approved to run in any state, they have taken that decision from the states. It is not something they might do, it is something they plainly plan to do.

Sep 20, 2016
I guess I am failing to see the difference between the feds making sure an autonomous car is safe and a car needing to have seat belts. Both will be required if a car is to be sold and driven now and in the future. There are many, many other requirements the feds have for car safety, such as:
-doors can't open during an impact
-hood has to have a latch
-windshield wiper controls are within reach of the driver constrained by their seat belt and sitting with their back fully against the seat back
And another whopper the feds demand: Odometer disclosure every time a car is sold or ownership is transferred.
Paranoid much?

Sep 20, 2016
691Boat,
The states now determine if you can drive in your state. They have requirements you must meet to do so. They also determine if and under what circumstances an autonomous vehicle can operate in the state.

The Federal government says that they are going to take that regulating authority away from the states.

Sep 21, 2016
Robots need to pay operating taxes to replaced lost government revenues from labor

Sep 21, 2016
Robots need to pay operating taxes to replaced lost government revenues from labor
I agree entirely and have been saying this for years. Machines can record and report exactly the amount of work they do, the materials and energy they consume, and their wear and tear on the infrastructure. They can self-diagnose and schedule their own repair. They can plan their own obsolescence and recycling.

And so their value can be calculated in real time, they can be paid directly, and they can be taxed immediately as a result.

The only way to maintain revenues lost as human workers are replaced by machines, is to pay machines wages and tax them directly.

Why pay employers and owners who will naturally want to skimp and cheat to maximize profits when revenues can be collected directly?

Emancipate the machines.

Sep 21, 2016
dogbert,
the only regulatory authority they are maintaining is safety. True, if the car doesn't meet the safety standards they set that the states have to enforce, they won't allow the car on the roads. You are being way to paranoid about this. I actually listened to a few interviews last night about this, and this exact question came up. The plan is to fully vet out all safety requirements before autonomous cars become common place so all automakers have the same guidelines to follow from the start, preventing them from having to perform recall upgrades down the road because new safety requirements were added. But if you don't want to believe that, more power to you. Keep living in your world of paranoia and conspiracy.

Sep 21, 2016
691Boat,
Funny how you consistently fail to read or hear that the intent of the Federal government is to take regulation authority away from the states. They intend to tell the states that autonomous vehicles must be allowed on the states' roads. The States currently make that determination and can allow or prevent autonomous vehicles and/or limit when and where they may be used.

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