PARIS — The Department of Transportation unveiled, on Tuesday (Sept. 20), new policies that attempt to tackle a patchwork of state laws regulating the rapidly changing technology of autonomous cars.
More important, these guidelines place self-driving cars directly under the purview of federal regulators. They strip from carmakers the long-accepted privilege of “self-certifying” their vehicles. Automobile manufacturers, for the first time, will need “pre-market approval” from the DoT.
“We’re saying that when the software is operating the vehicle, that is an area that we intend to regulate,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Further, regulators want automakers to provide the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with a safety assessment report on how the safety of their highly autonomous cars will be measured.
Devils are in detail
Automakers received the DoT’s announcement with cautious optimism.
David Strickland, general counsel for the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, an interest group whose founding members include Ford, Google, Lyft, Uber, and Volvo Cars, called the DoT’s guidance draft “an important step forward in establishing the basis of a national framework for the deployment of self-driving vehicles.”
Asked if automakers and technology suppliers might deem the federal guidelines too onerous, Strickland explained during the press briefing that this is “a foundation to developing a good house-keeping seal” for self-driving cars, and this allows agencies “to learn more” about automated vehicles. He added, “We are currently reviewing the specifics” outlined in the 116-page Federal Automated Vehicles Policy.
(Source: Department of Transportation)
The DoT guidelines do not yet represent formal laws but will form the basis for rules to be passed in Congress. The Department is asking for public comment over the next 60 days. The guidelines will be updated annually, if needed, by DOT and NHTSA, as the technology develops.
Certify autonomous cars fit to drive
The new federal automated vehicles policy seeks to tackle a lot of unanswered questions. In the policy report, speaking of highly automated vehicles, government officials wrote:
Still, important concerns emerge. Will they fully replace the human driver? What ethical judgments will they be called upon to make? What socioeconomic impacts flow from such a dramatic change? Will they disrupt the nature of privacy and security?
But from the engineering standpoint, the biggest challenge is the question of testing.
The Department of Motor Vehicles today gives tests to certify human drivers. But with driverless cars, what testing authority is appropriate to certify machines? Do the right tests even exist today?
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