Automakers seek flexibility on autonomous driving rules

Automakers seek flexibility on autonomous driving rules

Comments on the guidelines on autonomous vehicles issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are as might be expected. Automakers, including the Auto Alliance, Toyota and General Motors, want flexibility in the guidelines, while consumer groups, such as Consumer Watchdog want to make them mandatory to ensure the safety of the new technology.

NHTSA issued the voluntary guidelines for public comment in late September (see our earlier report in the WANADA Bulletin here). The guidelines ask manufacturers to sign and send a safety assessment to NHTSA certifying that their vehicles are ready for public roads before they are put on the street. The government wants to know in advance how the autonomous systems work and why they fail. The guidelines, if adopted, would involve the government more in the development of the autonomous systems.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has said he will make the voluntary guidelines mandatory, but his time as head of the agency is running out. Although the incoming Trump administration has not spoken specifically about autonomous vehicles, the president-elect has expressed his dislike over regulation and of a strong government role in business.

Automakers had been anxious to avoid a 50-state patchwork of laws, as some states are starting to write their own rules on autonomous driving. Now the Auto Alliance has expressed concern that there would be a state-by-state effort to mandate adoption of the voluntary guidelines.

When NHTSA held its second public hearing on the guidelines recently, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind talked about the need to develop a single set of standards for automakers and technology companies to follow. Several speakers scheduled to appear at the meeting did not show up, an occurrence that reporter Keith Laing of the Detroit News described as –the specter of President-elect Donald Trump” hanging over the event. No names have been publicly floated yet for the post of NHTSA administrator.

Michigan last week enacted what it said is the first comprehensive law on autonomous driving. The law, written in cooperation with automakers and technology companies, allows for public road testing of cars without wheels, pedals or the need for a human driver. Once the technology has been tested and certified, the cars may be sold to the public.

In Austin last week, a blind man successfully took a solo drive in a Google autonomous car. That drive coincided with Googleês spinoff of its self-driving car project into a separate company, Waymo.

Autonomous and connected cars will be discussed in depth at MobilityTalks International, a two-day forum of high-level speakers during the public policy days of the 2017 Washington Auto Show. For more information, click here.

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