Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Self-Driving Cars Are Subject to Federal Regulation

The car industry is about to change in a radical way. If you follow the industry at all, you have no doubt been bombarded with articles about the swift progress of companies building autonomous cars.  Every major car company will have partially autonomous cars in the next 5 years, with plans to become completely autonomous soon thereafter. And in these uncharted waters, the federal government has stepped in to provide some regulation. Tech companies and automobile manufacturers will have to address a 15-point "safety assessment" — including details on how a car’s software will address ethical and conflict situations on the road — to determine whether or not their driverless vehicles are safe for public use. And that's just one aspect of the new rulebook for self-driving cars. Last January, US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx promised to release a set of guidelines designed to bring some order to the flurry of activity surrounding automated vehicles.

These new rules confirm what we all are suspecting that self-driving cars are about to change the commuting landscape in a huge way. "We’re envisioning a future where you can take your hands off the wheel and the wheel out of the car, and where your commute becomes productive and restful, rather than frustrating and exhausting," said Jeff Zients, director of the White House’s National Economic Council, in a call with reporters Monday evening.

Of course, the question is whether or not the car companies would willingly share their tech information. But a spokesperson for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the guidelines will likely be made mandatory through regulations.The government is seeking basic details on how these cars function, as well as how they record data, what happens when they crash, how they protect themselves against malicious hacking, and most intriguingly, "how vehicles are programmed to address conflict dilemmas on the road." They plan on publishing the responses they receive in an annual report.

The Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have included a set of model regulations for states to adopt. This is to avoid a "patchwork" of regulations where some states allow for the deployment of self-driving cars, while others do not. This policy governs how to inspect and license self-driving cars, as well as law enforcement and insurance considerations, etc.

This is uncharted territory and the government certainly has their work cut out for them. No word yet on how much pushback they will receive from manufacturers.