It’s reported the US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says his department will unveil regulatory guidance for driverless cars in the coming months, marking a “major federal step toward getting self-driving vehicles on the roads”.
The Hill website reports that during an event hosted by Bloomberg Government, Foxx said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would issue guidelines for autonomous vehicles by mid-summer. He acknowledged the importance of developing a cohesive federal framework in order to encourage the development and sale of self-driving cars.
It says Foxx also emphasized that the Department of Transportation wouldn’t necessarily go through the lengthy, formal rule-making process — a underscoring the challenges for federal regulators in balancing safety concerns with the desire to swiftly bring new technology to the market.
“One of the challenges … is not to be caught flat-footed with this technology coming into existence and to be part of the thought process,” Foxx said. “I’m not suggesting that we’re going to put a rule forward on this, but starting to lay a foundation so people have a sense for how the federal government is going to approach the issue.”
Currently, there are no overarching federal laws specifically governing self-driving vehicles. Several states have waded into the debate and over a dozen more are considering legislation. California, for example, issued draft regulations last year to require a licensed driver to be present in a driverless car in order to assume liability.
Foxx said releasing federal guidance would help shed light on which aspects of regulation should be uniform across the country and which could be done on a state-by-state basis, in order to avoid having a messy patchwork of policies. He also expressed a desire to lay the groundwork before the cars are available to the masses, unlike with drones, which came to market prior to regulations being put in place.
“We’ve promised to work with the states, because they handle a lot of questions around liability, driver training,” Foxx said. “There are so many things states do to regulate how we actually use automobiles.”
There are current standards that could apply to autonomous vehicles. The NHTSA told Google last month that a car’s software could legally be considered the driver under federal law if there is no human driver.
Foxx acknowledged that it can be difficult for federal regulators to keep pace with evolving technology but said doing so with autonomous cars can be a good exercise to help the department respond to different technological advances in the future.
“It’s like a muscle,” he said. “It strengthens our ability to understand the technology and respond nimbly to it.”