Government Self-Driving Car Rules Due Within Months

By Jeff Plungis and John Hughes | April 1, 2016

U.S. regulators are making progress and will begin issuing guidelines to help the introduction of self-driving car technology within the next few months, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

The rapidly developing technology promoted by companies such as Google, Tesla Motors Inc. and General Motors Co. promises to reduce traffic fatalities but won’t eliminate every car crash, Foxx said at a Bloomberg Government breakfast in Washington Tuesday.

Foxx said he sees a bright future for self-driving cars, even if it’s unrealistic to expect too much from the technology too quickly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s guidance will include how self-driving cars should be tested and what benchmarks they’ll need to reach before being permitted on U.S. highways.

“Technology can help us” reduce highway fatalities, which are approaching 35,000 a year, Foxx said.

Foxx’s remarks build on the framework he announced at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January. U.S. regulators will allow automakers to demonstrate the safety of their technology and apply for exemptions to rules so that the federal government doesn’t stand in the way of innovation. Google recently got a letter clarifying that, for regulatory purposes, the software that controls its self-driving cars can be considered a “driver.”

Automaker Talks

Rulemaking remains too slow to deal with fast-moving technology like that in autonomous vehicles, Foxx said. Discussions between regulators and auto companies are building up the department’s base of knowledge, meaning any rules that are issued will be more effective, he said.

Foxx has separately proposed a 10-year, $4 billion grant program to help local governments and companies test parts of automated vehicle systems, accelerating the process of validating the technology. That program will need congressional approval, and the reception so far on Capitol Hill has been “a little frosty,” Foxx said.

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