US expected to update self-driving car guidelines

September 12, 2017 by Dee-Ann Durbin

The Trump administration on Tuesday unveiled updated safety guidelines for self-driving cars in an attempt to clear barriers for automakers and tech companies wanting to get test vehicles on the road.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced the new voluntary guidelines during a visit to an autonomous vehicle testing facility at the University of Michigan.

"Our country is on the verge of one of the most exciting and import developments in transportation history," Chao said.

The new guidelines update policies issued last fall by the Obama administration. Under the Obama administration's largely voluntary guidelines, automakers were asked to follow a 15-point safety assessment before putting test vehicles on the road. The guidelines also made clear that the federal government—not states—would determine whether the vehicles were safe.

Regulators and lawmakers have been struggling to keep up with the pace of self-driving technology. They are wary of burdening automakers and tech companies with regulations that would slow innovation, but they need to ensure that the vehicles are safely deployed. There are no fully self-driving vehicles for sale, but autonomous cars with backup drivers are being tested in numerous states, including California, Nevada and Pennsylvania.

Autonomous vehicle developers, including automakers and tech companies like Google and Uber, say autonomous vehicles could dramatically reduce crashes but complain that the patchwork of state laws passed in recent years could hamper their deployment. Early estimates indicate there were more than 40,000 traffic fatalities in the U.S. last year. The government says 94 percent of crashes involve human error.

Consumer and safety advocates are concerned that untested, experimental cars could get on public roads too soon, and accidents could undermine public acceptance of the technology.

The new guidelines encourage companies to put in place broad safety goals, such as making sure drivers are paying attention while using advanced assist systems. The systems are expected to detect and respond to people and objects both in and out of its travel path "including pedestrians, bicyclists, animals, and objects that could affect safe operation of the vehicle," the guidelines say.

There is a 12-point safety checklist, but the government makes it clear that the guidelines are voluntary and not regulations.

"While these assessments are encouraged prior to testing and deployment, NHTSA does not require that entities provide disclosures, nor are they required to delay testing or deployment," the guidelines say, referring to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Chao's appearance at Mcity, an autonomous vehicle testing facility at the University of Michigan, came the same day that the National Transportation Safety Board was debating whether Tesla Inc.'s partially self-driving Autopilot system shared the blame for the 2016 death of a driver in Florida.

So far, the government has mostly sided with automakers and tech companies.

The U.S. House voted last week to give the federal government the authority to exempt automakers from safety standards that don't apply to the technology. If a company can prove it can make a safe vehicle with no steering wheel, for example, the federal government could approve that. The bill permits the deployment of up to 25,000 vehicles in its first year and 100,000 annually after that.

The Senate is now considering a similar bill.

Under the Obama guidelines, automakers were asked to document how self-driving cars detect and avoid objects and pedestrians, how they are protected against cyberattacks and what sort of backup system is in place in case the computers fail.

Obama's policy also required the government to consider adopting new authorities, including methods to test autonomous vehicles before they were allowed on the road.

Explore further: GM unit says it has 'mass producible' autonomous cars

Related Stories

House passes bill to speed deployment of self-driving cars

September 6, 2017

The House voted Wednesday to speed the introduction of self-driving cars by giving the federal government authority to exempt automakers from safety standards not applicable to the technology, and to permit deployment of ...

Investigators fault driver in Tesla Autopilot crash

September 12, 2017

Design limitations of the Tesla Model S's Autopilot played a major role in the first known fatal crash of a highway vehicle operating under automated control systems, the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday.

Intel set to roll out 100 self-driving cars

August 9, 2017

Silicon Valley giant Intel on Wednesday announced plans for a fleet of self-driving cars following its completion of the purchase of Israeli autonomous technology firm Mobileye.

DOT secretary wants more rigorous reviews of robotic cars

July 19, 2016

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says he wants government regulators and the auto industry to work more closely together to test self-driving technology before people entrust their vehicle's steering and brakes ...

Recommended for you

1 in 3 Michigan workers tested opened fake 'phishing' email

March 16, 2018

Michigan auditors who conducted a fake "phishing" attack on 5,000 randomly selected state employees said Friday that nearly one-third opened the email, a quarter clicked on the link and almost one-fifth entered their user ...

World's biggest battery in Australia to trump Musk's

March 16, 2018

British billionaire businessman Sanjeev Gupta will built the world's biggest battery in South Australia, officials said Friday, overtaking US star entrepreneur Elon Musk's project in the same state last year.

Origami-inspired self-locking foldable robotic arm

March 15, 2018

A research team of Seoul National University led by Professor Kyu-Jin Cho has developed an origami-inspired robotic arm that is foldable, self-assembling and also highly-rigid. (The researchers include Suk-Jun Kim, Dae-Young ...

Tokyo Tech's six-legged robots get closer to nature

March 12, 2018

A study led by researchers at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) has uncovered new ways of driving multi-legged robots by means of a two-level controller. The proposed controller uses a network of so-called non-linear ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.