After years of talk in the tech community of the development of self-driving cars, the United States federal government has released its first example of guidelines on self-driving car policy.
The Obama administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation announced on September 19 a pathway to the sale of self-driving cars within the next few years by creating the first federal regulations for autonomous vehicles.
This comes on the heels of many states and cities across the U.S. that have created their own local regulations, notably the states of California and Michigan and the cities of Pittsburgh and Boston.
The autonomous vehicle industry and federal and local governments have been struggling recently on determining which government authorities are responsible for the regulation of autonomous vehicles, as traditionally vehicle regulations have been done by the federal government while driver regulations were handled by the states.
The new federal guidelines answer some of the questions on this issue, but many say the debate is just beginning.
These guidelines lay out the foundation of a process for automakers to put autonomous vehicles on the road, which many predict will happen in the next half-decade.
Automakers will be required to voluntarily submit information to the DOT on their autonomous vehicles, notably tests of the safety of the autonomous technology.
This information will be composed of 15 different topics, most of which are related to safety, though some privacy-rights groups are particularly pleased with the inclusion of guidelines on the automakers’ requirements to release information on its data recording and sharing methods, among other privacy matters.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx has made autonomous vehicle regulation a priority in his first few years of office since beginning his term in early 2013.
He has previously published suggestions on how states and cities should handle autonomous regulation, but this is the first formal regulation of an industry that many didn’t expect to be relevant for another decade or more.
Automakers were generally pleased with the regulations, noting Secretary Foxx’s acknowledgement of an industry still get to be legitimized by any other federal office. General Motors commented on the impact the guidelines had in helping in creating “the constructive dialogue on how to safety deploy AVs,” while Toyota noted the Department of Transportation’s resistance of the “emerging patchwork of state laws” on the subject.
This framework for the federal government’s approach to autonomous vehicles follows similar legislation at the city level in the last few weeks, which Pittsburgh enacted in part to allow Uber to begin testing a few self-driving cars on its streets less than two weeks prior to the federal announcement.
Similarly, Boston also published a year-long plan to foster self-driving technology and attract automakers to develop and test their technology in Boston as Uber has done in Pittsburgh.
This has also made the U.S. one of the first countries to address the emergence of autonomous vehicles on a national level.
They follow the city-state of Singapore, which has developed into one of the the friendliest cities for autonomous testing with multiple companies on the road today.
Other large nations have also moved to create regulations ahead of the technology’s readiness for sale to the public, led by France which in April unveiled similar regulations to those just released by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
According to Secretary Foxx, the importance of consistent laws across states increases as autonomous cars begin to enter the roads of more US cities.
However, the safety of the vehicles is considered imperative. These guidelines provide hope that the autonomous future is both near and will help save thousands of lives and enable Americans to travel in ways they haven’t before.