Autonomous Car Guidance Will Be Heavily Reviewed: Foxx

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By Stephanie Beasley

June 29 — There is no firm target date for the Transportation Department to issue industry guidelines on the deployment of autonomous cars—anticipated to happen sometime this summer—because of the heavy scrutiny they will need to undergo before public release, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

During a pen-and-pad briefing with reporters June 29, Foxx said he was reluctant to provide a specific time line for the release of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) guidance on automated cars, but noted that he plans to spend “a little while” reviewing the document beforehand. In particular, he said he would like to see the guidelines establish parameters for federal and state officials to work together to determine when software installed in self-driving cars might reach the level where a licensed driver would no longer be required.

Policy Collaborations

Earlier this year, NHTSA sent a letter to autonomous carmaker Google clarifying that software that controls the company's self-driving cars could be considered a driver. But some states, such as California, are considering proposals to require a licensed driver in autonomous cars.

The industry guidance should establish lanes for NHTSA and federal regulators to develop policy around this issue without running over each other, Foxx said. Currently NHTSA approves only the physical car, but there is the emerging question of whether the agency should “expand its rigors” to include evaluating the software involved in autonomous cars, he said.

“We recognize that there are aspects of autonomous vehicles that we will learn more about as time goes on, so there is a need to get as exact as we can without overdoing it, leaving room for things to evolve more,” he said. “So I might say that we are crafting a declaration of independence, in a way. We're not crafting the Constitution. At this point, what we're trying to do is lay a frame that the structure can be built on as time goes forward.”

Working With Industry

Many autonomous car models under development rely on equipment powered by wireless spectrum. Foxx said that new vehicle technologies such as connected cars could have tremendous safety benefits, but that industry would need to make sure that the cars could effectively communicate with each other, as well as with connected infrastructure. The Transportation Department is thrusting itself toward the future, but it must have help from industry, he said.

NHTSA submitted to the Office of Management and Budget a draft notice of proposed regulations to require vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) equipment on all new cars and light trucks. The agency's top research and technology official recently said NHTSA planned to work closely with industry groups to sharpen its expertise on some of the privacy and security issues that could arise as automated and connected cars are deployed to the U.S. market (See previous story, 03/30/16).

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