AI News, Obama's $4-Billion Self-Driving Car Plan Is All About Laws and Testing

Obama's $4-Billion Self-Driving Car Plan Is All About Laws and Testing

“We are on the cusp of a new era in automotive technology with enormous potential to save lives, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and transform mobility for the American people,” saidAnthony Foxx, U.S.Secretary of Transportation, in apress releasestatement.

Experts have also pointed to possible benefits such as making driving commutes more efficient and enabling robo-taxi services thatreduce the need for individual car ownership and lower thenumber of cars on the road.

“We will work with state partners toward creating a consistent national policy on these innovations, provide options now and into the future for manufacturers seeking to deploy autonomous vehicles, and keep our safety mission paramount at every stage,” Rosekind said in a statement.

But getting everyone to agree on what those laws should be may prove a challenge.For example, California recently issued a draft proposal of toughregulations that would demand a driverbehind a steering wheel:a requirement that rules outautonomous vehicles lackingsuch traditional controls.

The US is speeding toward its first national law for self-driving cars

Right now, automakers and companies interested in testing self-driving technology have to apply for exemptions to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) federal motor vehicle safety standards, and the agency only grants 2,500 per year.

And since fully self-driving cars potentially won’t need things like pedals or a steering wheel, these companies wanted to break some of those restrictions now in order to make it easier to research and test self-driving cars in real-world settings.

“It really gives them an opportunity to do significant testing and put together all the research that's required to make sure that this is truly a step forward in road safety, which is the ultimate goal.” It also allows all 50 states to innovate on self-driving technology, says Greg Rogers, a policy analyst for the Eno Center for Transportation.

“This will really allow states to focus on their core roles of registering vehicles, enforcing traffic laws, and managing insurance and liability, because these are still critical components of our transportation network.” The Self Drive Act won’t give these companies free rein to test whatever they want on public roads, though.

Still, Rogers thinks the act would open the door for ride-sharing services that are working on autonomous vehicles — like Lyft and GM, Uber, and Waymo — to start earnestly testing beyond the small self-driving pilot programs they’ve already launched in certain parts of the country.

“Unfortunately, the bill currently being considered by the House seeks to significantly expand federal pre-emption of states by moving beyond the traditional definition of motor vehicle safety to encroach on vehicle operations, currently under the states’ purview,” the NCSL writes.

But the group points out that the bill also states that it won’t prohibit a state or local government from “maintaining, enforcing, prescribing, or continuing in effect any law or regulation regarding registration, licensing.” “We ask the House to make clear and reaffirm the traditional federal and state roles when it comes to vehicle safety standards and safety of vehicle operations,” the group writes.

Almost every representative that spoke during the House session this morning mentioned how autonomous cars could increase mobility for the elderly or disabled, help reduce emissions, or, perhaps most importantly, reduce the number of deaths caused by car accidents, “It’s something that we often lose sight of, especially in Congress,” Rogers says.

“Providing people with more information about what vehicles are being tested, where they are, and how many crashes [happen] is a good thing overall — not just for consumers and the government, but it's good for society as a whole to be aware of this technology, to be aware of its lifesaving potential.”

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Through its proactive and inclusive approach to the safe testing and deployment of new auto technologies that have enormous potential for improving safety and mobility for Americans on the road, NHTSA demonstrates its dedication to saving lives on our roads and highways.

The updated guidance, 2.0, paves the way for the safe deployment of advanced driver assistance technologies by providing voluntary guidance that encourages best practices and prioritizes safety.

Congress Finally Gets Serious About Regulating Self-Driving Cars

Seven years after Google started developing robocars, 14 months after a Florida man died in a Tesla Model S that was driving itself, and almost a year after self-driving Ubers started picking up passengers in Pennsylvania, Congress might actually start regulating autonomous vehicles.

(The full House Energy and Commerce Committee wants to consider the legislation before the House's August recess, a committee spokesperson said.) Congress, it seems, wants to shred the patchwork of rules and regulations and blanket the nation in uniform guidelines that allow the technology to develop while ensuring everyone it will be safe.

The Department of Transportation dictates how vehicles are built (airbags, seat belts, crumple zones), but states regulate their operation (licensing, insurance, traffic laws).

Which is why the legislation approved by the House subcommittee this week prioritizes “preemption”—a fancy way of saying the federal rules would supersede state and local regulations.

The proposed House legislation would also permit each manufacturer to test as many as 100,000 robocars that don't quite meet federal standards, which require things like steering wheels and foot-activated brakes that do not apply to autonomous vehicles.

“You don’t say: ‘This is how you make the car stop within so many feet of having the brakes applied.’ All you say is, ‘It has to be able to stop.’” The problem is no one knows how this tech will shake out, or the best way to regulate something that doesn't really exist yet.

(The legislative package would also require Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to convene advisory councils on disability, underserved populations, seniors, and cybersecurity, to determine how autonomous vehicles can best serve all Americans.) It's the rare topic about which federal lawmakers can hold hands across the aisle as they sing “Kumbaya.” “That’s actually one of the most encouraging things I’ve seen about [autonomous vehicle legislation]—the principles for the Senate bipartisan regulation is a pretty similar framework to what the House dropped,” says Caleb Watney, who studies tech policy with the libertarian R Street Institute.

Autonomous Vehicle Regulation Highlights Federal vs. State Divide

As the U.S. Congress moves quickly to pass the first federal law governing self-driving cars, some state and city officials are pushing back over fears that the measure will limit their ability to regulate vehicle safety at the local level.

Industry officials say a single, nationwide set of standards would speed the development of self-driving vehicle technology, ultimately lead to fewer highway deaths, and keep the United States in the forefront of automotive technology.

“If Congress preempts state and local governments from enacting smart safety protections, the adoption of this amazing technology could be unnecessarily delayed by court challenges and state legislative action,”

5 letter to U.S. congressional leaders, the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislators and other groups said the federal rules encroached on state authority and urged federal lawmakers to change the bill’s language.

Though fully-autonomous cars are still years away from widespread adoption, 25 states have already passed legislation or issued executive orders related to autonomous vehicles, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.

Uber said it would share some data starting this year on a voluntary basis, but Chan Lieu, a former director of governmental affairs at NHTSA who is now an advisor to the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, which includes Ford , Alphabet’s Waymo, Volvo Cars, Uber and Lyft, said the companies would oppose broad data disclosure requirements.

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