US up­dat­ing self-driv­ing car guide­lines as more hit the road

Manteca Bulletin - - On The Road -

ANN AR­BOR, Mich. (AP) — The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on Tuesday unveiled up­dated safety guide­lines for self-driv­ing cars aimed at clear­ing bar­ri­ers for au­tomak­ers and tech com­pa­nies want­ing to get test ve­hi­cles on the road.

The new vol­un­tary guide­lines an­nounced by U.S. Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Elaine Chao up­date poli­cies is­sued last fall by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, which were also largely vol­un­tary.

Chao em­pha­sized that the guide­lines aren’t meant to force au­tomak­ers to use cer- tain technology or meet strin­gent re­quire­ments. In­stead, they’re de­signed to clar­ify what ve­hi­cle de­vel­op­ers and states should con­sider as more test cars reach pub­lic roads.

“We want to make sure those who are in­volved un­der­stand how im­por­tant safety is,” Chao said dur­ing a visit to an au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle test­ing fa­cil­ity at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan. “We also want to en­sure that the in­no­va­tion and the cre­ativ­ity of our coun­try remain.”

Un­der Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, au­tomak­ers were asked to fol­low a 15-point safety as­sess­ment be­fore putting test ve­hi­cles on the road. The new guide­lines reduce that to a 12-point vol­un­tary as­sess­ment, ask­ing au­tomak­ers to con­sider things like cy­ber­se­cu­rity, crash pro­tec­tion, how the ve­hi­cle in­ter­acts with oc­cu­pants and the backup plans if the ve­hi­cle en­coun­ters a prob­lem. They no longer ask au­tomak­ers to think about ethics or pri­vacy is­sues or share information be­yond crash data, as the pre­vi­ous guide­lines did.

The guide­lines also make clear that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment — not states — de­ter­mines whether au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles are safe. That is the same guid­ance the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion gave.

States can still reg­u­late au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles, but they’re en­cour­aged not to pass laws that would throw bar­ri­ers in front of test­ing and use. There is noth­ing to pro­hibit Cal­i­for­nia, for in­stance, from re­quir­ing hu­man backup driv­ers on highly au­to­mated ve­hi­cles, but the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion would dis­cour­age that.

Au­tomak­ers — who were grow­ing in­creas­ingly frus­trated with the patch­work of state reg­u­la­tions — praised the guide­lines.

“You are pro­vid­ing a stream­lined, flex­i­ble sys­tem to ac­com­mo­date the devel­op­ment and de­ploy­ment of new tech­nolo­gies,” Mitch Bain­wol, the head of the Al­liance of Au­to­mo­bile Man­u­fac­tur­ers, told Chao at Tuesday’s event. The al­liance rep­re­sents 12 ma­jor au­tomak­ers, in­clud­ing Gen­eral Mo­tors Co., Mercedes-Benz and Toy­ota Mo­tor Corp.

But crit­ics said the guide­lines don’t en­sure self-driv­ing technology is safe be­fore go­ing out on the road.

“NHTSA needs to be em­pow­ered to pro­tect con­sumers against new haz­ards that may emerge, and to en­sure au­to­mated sys­tems work as they’re sup­posed to with­out plac­ing con­sumers at risk,” said David Fried­man, a for­mer act­ing NHTSA ad­min­is­tra­tor who now di­rects cars and prod­uct pol­icy an­a­lysts for Con­sumers Union, the pol­icy divi­sion of Con­sumer Re­ports magazine.

Reg­u­la­tors and law­mak­ers have been strug­gling to keep up with the pace of self-driv­ing technology. There are no fully self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles for sale, but au­ton­o­mous cars with backup driv­ers are be­ing tested in nu­mer­ous states, in­clud­ing Cal­i­for­nia, Ne­vada and Penn­syl­va­nia.

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