U.S. Signals Strong Support for Self-Driving Cars Ahead of Transportation Secretary Speech at CES
With many developers of self-driving vehicle frustrated by regulations which limit their deployment for testing, The U.S. government is finally stepping in with a set of regulations designed to unify their oversight in an effort to speed up the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles.
At the annual CES in Las Vegas on Wednesday, The Trump administration signaled strong support for self-driving vehicles as it releases new guidance from federal agencies.
During a scheduled appearance at CES on Wednesday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will unveil the Trump administration's latest principles for autonomous vehicles called "AV 4.0", which she says unifies autonomous efforts across 38 U.S. departments and agencies.
"The takeaway from AV 4.0 is that the federal government is all in — for safer, better and more inclusive transportation, aided by automated driving systems," Chao plans to say, according to a copy of her remarks reviewed by Reuters ahead of her keynote.
White House technology adviser Michael Kratsios said in a statement the principles will "help foster an environment for innovators to advance safe AV technologies, and put the U.S. in a position of continued leadership in the future of transportation."
The 51-page 4.0 policy document scheduled for release later today says the U.S. government will adopt and promote "flexible, technology-neutral policies that will allow the public, not the federal government or foreign governments, to choose the most economically efficient and effective transportation and mobility solutions."
Part of the renewed effort for policies around self-driving vehicles stem from a fatal accident in March 2018 involving an autonomous vehicle in Arizona being tested by ride-hailing company Uber.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) launched an investigation into the death of Elaine Herzberg, a pedestrian struck by Uber's test vehicle, the first-ever fatality involving a self-driving car. The NTSB faulted the distracted back-up driver who failed to intervene when the vehicle did not properly identify the pedestrian, as well as Uber's overall safety culture.
The investigative board noted that government agencies at both the federal and state level have failed to put in place requirements for verifying the safety of test vehicles used to develop self-driving cars.
The NTSB said in November U.S. regulators should make those assessments mandatory and ensure automated vehicles have appropriate safeguards.
Chao said she is still reviewing the NTSB recommendations.
Chao will say Wednesday that "automated vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives annually... and would restore mobility for millions of people who face transportation challenges."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is reviewing how it can remove regulatory barriers to self-driving cars and considering whether to let U.S. automaker General Motors deploy some vehicles without steering wheels.
GM is aiming to launch a robo-taxi service together with its autonomous driving division Cruise in San Francisco with a fleet of self-driving Chevy Bolt EVs. Since they Bolt's will be self-driving, GM wants to build them without human controls, meaning they will have no steering wheel or pedals.
However, automakers that market vehicles in the U.S. currently must meet nearly 75 auto safety standards, many of which were written with the assumption that a licensed human driver will be behind the wheel.
Among the standards, all vehicles registered in the U.S. must have a steering wheel and brake pedal, along with side-view mirrors, which GM argues ts doesn't need for its fleet of self-driving Bolt EVs. The automaker is still waiting on a decision.
One of the biggest concerns surrounding the deployment of self-driving vehicles is public safety, including for motorists that may one share the road alongside them. That will remain unchanged.
"I want the federal government to support innovation but not at the risk of safety," Chao said to Reuters.
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