Federal Government Considering New Powers to Regulate Self-Driving Cars

The federal government doesn’t want to leave the issue of autonomous vehicle safety for states to decide, and may create new powers of oversight and approval for autonomous technology.

After president Barack Obama laid out his goals for the industry in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette op-ed yesterday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a set of voluntary guidelines to manufacturers today, asking them to prove their vehicles are safe before entering public roadways.

In the piece, Obama called for a “flexible” policy to ensure that autonomous vehicles conform to proper safety standards from state to state.

A new list of rules would provide “guidance that the manufacturers developing self-driving cars should follow to keep us safe,” Obama said. He added, “And we’re asking them to sign a 15-point safety checklist showing not just the government, but every interested American, how they’re doing it.”

That checklist would require manufacturers to provide information on vehicle testing, backup systems to prevent disaster in the event of a computer failure, crash safety and data recording.

In a press conference today, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would seek to make the 15-point “safety assessment” mandatory via the regulatory process, Reuters reports.

Obama claimed that the new rules, which could eventually include the federal government’s ability to pull self-driving vehicles off the road if deemed unsafe, aim to bolster public confidence in the safety of the emerging technology. Autonomous vehicles have the power to improve mobility for seniors and the disabled, he said, as well as the “potential to create new jobs and render other jobs obsolete.”

Resources, job training, and — of course — regulations must be in place for the sector to grow, he claims.

Audi A4

The op-ed didn’t make it to a Pittsburgh paper by accident. Uber is aggressively developing autonomous driving technology in that city, employing a fleet of self-driving Volvos. Pittsburgh is the site of the inaugural White House Frontiers Conference on October 13, focusing on innovation.

Michigan remains ground zero for autonomous vehicle development, with the state Senate recently approving a series of bills designed to allow self-driving vehicles to operate on many roadways. Numerous automakers, some working alongside state government and post-secondary institutions, have created testing programs in that state. Ride-sharing companies and tech giants like Google are also involved.

If the federal government does take a bigger hand in the approval and regulation of self-driving vehicles, it would require the creation of a new regulatory apparatus.

In a conference call yesterday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said a premarket approval system “would require a lot more upfront discussion, dialogue and staffing on our part,” according to Reuters.

Foxx claimed the federal intervention in the sector aims to prevent a “patchwork” of state regulations concerning self-driving vehicles. He wants public and industry comment on whether the government should seek premarket approval power for autonomous technology.

This story first appeared on thetruthaboutcars.com.