Some exciting changes are shaping the future of the automotive industry, and none has captured so much interest as autonomous driving. As with any new technology, developers have had to weigh the push to create autonomous cars that are ready for the road with regulations from the federal government that limit how testing is conducted.
On Tuesday, September 12, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao published a new set of guidelines for self-driving cars. The guidelines reduce the expectations from the federal government related to what a self-driving car must do before it can be on a public road.
The new guidelines, while welcomed by automotive companies, are raising concerns among consumer safety advocates, who say that the guidelines are a step in the wrong direction. They fear that public safety may be compromised in an effort to prioritize technology development.
Meanwhile, Chao references public safety as the main priority in releasing the new guidelines for self-driving cars. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association reports that 35,000 people die each year in traffic accidents and 94 percent of all accidents involve human error.
The same day that Chao released the updated guidelines, the National Transportation Safety Board ruled that the Autopilot by Tesla, a package of self-driving features, was at least partly responsible for a fatal crash last year.
The goal of the new guidelines, which provide an update to more vigorous federal oversight that was released in 2016, is to give the automotive industry more freedom to innovate and put autonomous cars on the road much more quickly.
The Department of Transportation stresses in its document that its recommendation for companies developing autonomous vehicles to submit safety assessments is a clear effort to reduce restrictions. It also encourages individual states to make it easier for the free testing and research of self-driving cars on public roads. Right now, each state has its own laws related to the testing and use of such cars on public roads.
The announcement of the Department of Transportation arrives just as Congress is considering the SELF DRIVE Act, which would give the federal government control and regulation of self-driving cars, providing limitations for how states regulate autonomous vehicles on the road. The House recently passed a version of the act and the Senate will soon weigh in on the legislation.