Regulators Move To Ease Restrictions For Self-Driving Cars

With everyone from Google to Ford trying to get into the self-driving vehicle business, federal regulators say it may be time to ease up on some restrictions that the industry claims are slowing innovation in the relatively new field.

The Department of Transportation will remove potential roadblocks to the integration of automotive technology that could lead to improved safety, mobility, and sustainability, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced Thursday.

“We are on the cusp of a new era in automotive technology with enormous potential to save lives, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and transform mobility for the American people,” Foxx said in a statement. “Today’s actions and those we will pursue in the coming months will provide the foundation and the path forward for manufacturers, state officials, and consumers to use new technologies and achieve their full safety potential.”

An update to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 2013 preliminary policy statement on autonomous vehicles better reflects the reality that the widespread deployment of fully autonomous vehicles is now feasible, the agency said.

Over the next six months, NHTSA will work with industry and other stakeholders to develop guidance on the safe deployment and operation of autonomous vehicles.

During that same timeframe, the agency will work with state partners, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, and other stakeholders to develop a model state policy on automated vehicles that offers a path to consistent national policy.

In the meantime, Foxx encouraged manufacturers to submit requests for use of the agency’s exemption authority to allow self-driving vehicles. NHTSA has the authority to exempt up to 2,500 vehicles industry-wide from some auto safety standards for up to two years.

To receive the exemption, companies will have to demonstrate — within six months — that their vehicles can operate safely and plan to develop formal guidance “on the safe deployment and operation of autonomous vehicles.”

“NHTSA is using all of its available tools to accelerate the deployment of technologies that can eliminate 94 percent of fatal crashes involving human error,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said in a statement. “We will work with state partners toward creating a consistent national policy on these innovations, provide options now and into the future for manufacturers seeking to deploy autonomous vehicles, and keep our safety mission paramount at every stage.”

In related news, Foxx announced that under President Obama’s 2017 budget, the government would provide nearly $4 billion over 10 years for pilot programs to test connected vehicle systems in designated corridors throughout the country, and work with industry leaders to ensure a common multi-state framework for connected and autonomous vehicles.