Feds vow to clear road for self-driving vehicle makers

Trump administration's new automated driving systems guidance lifts deployment burdens, prioritizes safety

Trump administration's new automated driving systems guidance lifts deployment burdens, prioritizes safety

"The new Guidance supports further development of this important new technology, which has the potential to change the way we travel and how we deliver goods and services", said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao in a statement.

Since the new guidelines are policy, not law, they don't legally change what the state and federal government and vehicle developers can do, said Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of SC who tracks government policy on self-driving cars.

The document clarifies that it is entirely voluntary for automakers to provide self assessments of their vehicles' safety, but it encourages them to do so to win public trust.

Chao's appearance came at a time of increased government focus on highly automated cars.

The Trump administration said Tuesday it would maintain a hands-off approach to federal regulation of autonomous vehicles, even as government investigators placed some blame on Tesla Inc.'s Autopilot technology for a fatal crash a year ago.

"This isn't a vision for safety", said John M. Simpson, head of privacy for a nonprofit progressive group called Consumer Watchdog. That federal legislation would play a stronger role than the transportation department guidelines, and more importantly, would supersede state regulations.

"This new policy adjusts the tone but continues much of the substance of last year's document", said Bryant Walker Smith, an assistant professor of law at the University of SC.

Regulators and lawmakers have been struggling to keep up with the pace of self-driving technology.

Chao said the guidelines will be updated again next year. Early estimates indicate there were more than 40,000 traffic fatalities in the US a year ago; the government says 94 percent of crashes involve human error.

"The technology in this field is accelerating at a much faster pace than I think many people expected", she said. But it said automakers should incorporate safeguards that keep drivers' attention engaged and limit the use of automated systems to the areas they were designed for, like highways. The bill permits the deployment of up to 25,000 vehicles in its first year and 100,000 annually after that.

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