U.S. calls for giv­ing driver­less cars a push

Agency ad­vises state of­fi­cials to re­move reg­u­la­tory bar­ri­ers that keep ro­botic ve­hi­cles off the roads.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Russ Mitchell

SAN FRANCISCO — Go for it! In essence, that’s the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s new di­rec­tive on driver­less car de­vel­op­ment.

Un­der those guide­lines, au­tomak­ers and technology com­pa­nies will be asked to vol­un­tar­ily sub­mit safety as­sess­ments to the U.S. Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, but they don’t have to do it.

And states are be­ing ad­vised to use a light reg­u­la­tory hand.

At a driver­less car test track in Ann Ar­bor, Mich., Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Elaine Chao painted a near fu­ture of greater safety, fewer deaths, higher pro­duc­tiv­ity and more time spent with loved ones as ro­bots in­creas­ingly take over the tasks of driv­ing and com­muters are freed for other ac­tiv­i­ties.

She un­veiled a doc­u­ment ti­tled “Vi­sion for Safety 2.0” and de­liv­ered a speech that was strong on vi­sion and light on reg­u­la­tion.

“More than 35,000 peo­ple per­ish ev­ery year in ve­hi­cle crashes,” she said — 94% of those through driver er­ror. Af­ter years of de­cline, fa­tal­i­ties are grow­ing, she said. “Au­to­mated driv­ing sys­tems hold the prom­ise of sig­nif­i­cantly re­duc­ing th­ese er­rors and sav­ing tens of thou­sands of lives in the process.”

Although the “Vi­sion” doc­u­ment is vague, Congress is likely to pack on some meat. Last week, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed a bill that even­tu­ally would let au­tomak­ers each put as many as 25,000 cars on the road even if some features don’t meet cur­rent safety stan­dards set by the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion. The cap would rise over a fouryear pe­riod, al­low­ing each au­tomaker to field 275,000 driver­less cars by the end of that pe­riod.

The House bill would re­quire safety as­sess­ments, but per­mis­sion to test would not be re­quired. States would be re­quired to fol­low fed­eral reg­u­la­tions.

The Se­nate is con­sid­er­ing a sim­i­lar bill, though the Com­merce Com­mit­tee will con­sider at a Wed­nes­day hear­ing whether to ex­empt trucks from the law. La­bor unions fear that driver­less technology could lead to job losses. Chao, who has ex­pressed sim­i­lar con­cerns in the past, said she’s work­ing closely with Congress on the mat­ter.

She was joined at Tues­day’s an­nounce­ment by Mark Ric­cobono, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of

the Blind, who said fully au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles of­fer “an un­prece­dented op­por­tu­nity to bring equal ac­cess to peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.”

Although wide­spread use of driver­less cars is at least sev­eral years away, au­tomak­ers and technology com­pa­nies are mak­ing rapid progress, and features — such as au­to­matic brak­ing and adap­tive cruise con­trol — are al­ready avail­able on many new ve­hi­cles.

Tesla’s Au­topi­lot fea­ture, for ex­am­ple, en­ables the ve­hi­cle to pass cars au­to­mat­i­cally on the free­way. An op­tion on the new Cadil­lac CT6 en­ables driv­ers to cruise along a free­way lane for hours with­out driver in­ter­ven­tion. Even mod­els from rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive mak­ers such as Hyundai, Mazda, Kia and Subaru of­fer au­to­matic brak­ing to avoid rear-end­ing the car ahead.

Not ev­ery­one was happy with Chao’s an­nounce­ment. Some con­sumer groups, which al­ready thought the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s stan­dards were too lax, crit­i­cized a fur­ther pull­back from govern­ment reg­u­la­tion.

“This isn’t a vi­sion for safety,” said John M. Simp­son, Con­sumer Watch­dog’s pri­vacy project di­rec­tor. “It’s a road map that al­lows man­u­fac­tur­ers to do what­ever they want, wher­ever and when­ever they want, turn­ing our roads into pri­vate lab­o­ra­to­ries for ro­bot cars with no re­gard for our safety.”

Two House Democrats, Frank Pal­lone Jr. of New Jersey and Jan Schakowsky of Illi­nois, is­sued a state­ment that calls Chao’s move a step back­ward: “The ad­min­is­tra­tion chose to cave to in­dus­try and pres­sure the states into not act­ing.”

But driver­less ve­hi­cle pro­po­nents cheered Chao’s pre­sen­ta­tion. “This is great news. Over-reg­u­lat­ing au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles will slow down the adop­tion of a technology which will cre­ate mil­lions of new high-pay­ing jobs across the United States and make roads safer for all Amer­i­cans,” driver­less in­dus­try con­sul­tant Grayson Brulte said.

Mitch Bain­wol, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Al­liance of Au­to­mo­bile Man­u­fac­tur­ers lobby group, ap­peared at the Chao event and said, “The fu­ture is not some­thing we should be afraid of or try to slow down.”

The new stan­dards re­place guide­lines pub­lished by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in Septem­ber 2016 that asked au­tomak­ers to vol­un­tar­ily sub­mit re­ports on a 15point “safety as­sess­ment.” They were also urged, but not re­quired, to de­fer to fed­eral rules on safety. Chao did not crit­i­cize those guide­lines, but called them “Vi­sion for Safety 1.0.”

“The new pol­icy ad­justs the tone but con­tin­ues much of the sub­stance of [the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion] doc­u­ment,” said Bryant Walker Smith, law pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of South Carolina. “It clearly re­flects the in­put of the tra­di­tional au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try but doesn’t ex­clude po­ten­tial new en­trants such as Waymo.”

The pre­vi­ous ap­proach, how­ever, didn’t elim­i­nate a patch­work of state-by-state reg­u­la­tions. Cal­i­for­nia’s reg­u­la­tions, for ex­am­ple, are con­sid­ered fairly strict. Florida, Michi­gan and Ari­zona barely reg­u­late driver­less cars.

The new “Vi­sion for Safety” ad­vises state of­fi­cials to re­main technology-neu­tral and not fa­vor tra­di­tional au­tomak­ers over technology com­pa­nies; to re­move reg­u­la­tory bar­ri­ers that keep driver­less cars off the roads; and to make the fed­eral Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment’s vol­un­tary rec­om­men­da­tions into law.

New leg­is­la­tion that emerges from Congress, how­ever, could have more se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions for state reg­u­la­tions. Un­der the House bill, Cal­i­for­nia and other states could not bar driver­less cars al­lowed un­der fed­eral law.

How that might af­fect a new set of driver­less reg­u­la­tions that Cal­i­for­nia of­fi­cials plan to un­veil by the end of the year is un­clear. The state Depart­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles, which reg­u­lates driver­less cars, said in a state­ment that it is re­view­ing the new fed­eral guide­lines.

Trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials from both ad­min­is­tra­tions con­sider driver-as­sist technology and au­ton­o­mous cars to be es­sen­tial safety features that could dra­mat­i­cally re­duce col­li­sions, in­juries and deaths.

The vast ma­jor­ity of traf­fic col­li­sions are caused by hu­man driver er­ror, fed­eral safety statis­tics show. Fa­tal­i­ties have been ris­ing in re­cent years as cell­phones and other dis­tract­ing de­vices have be­come more pop­u­lar.

In 2016, U.S. high­way traf­fic deaths rose 6% to about 40,000.

Max Ortiz As­so­ci­ated Press

U.S. TRANS­PORTA­TION Sec­re­tary Elaine Chao an­nounces new vol­un­tary safety guide­lines for self-driv­ing cars in Ann Ar­bor, Mich.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.