In Backing Autonomous Cars, U.S. Tells Automakers to Figure It Out

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September 20, 2016 NY Times

The Obama administration’s approach to hands-free driving is remarkably hands-off.

In one of the country’s most heavily regulated industries, the new federal guidelines that are meant to speed the development of self-driving cars give automakers wide latitude. The policy, announced on Tuesday, would generally let the industry decide for itself how to create supersmart automobiles that can navigate roads on their own, whether driving across town or across the country.

The one firm requirement: Make sure those cars are safe. Otherwise, federal officials have warned, the government will exercise its right under current regulations to pull them off the road.

And yet, the bulk of the new Federal Automated Vehicles Policy is devoted to the goal — produce self-driving cars that prevent accidents and avoid pedestrians and obstacles — without telling automakers how to do it or which technologies to use.

The policy is designed to “create a path for a fully autonomous driver with different designs than what we have on the road today,” Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said at Washington news conference on Tuesday. “If you look at the policy, it provides that path.”

Automakers on Tuesday welcomed the hands-off approach.

“You can’t get locked into one technology or approach, and it doesn’t seem like they are doing that here,” said Brad Stertz, director of government affairs at Audi of America, the German automaker’s United States arm. “They want to have the flexibility to allow the technology to evolve and evolve in the safest way.”

David Strickland, a former administrator of the federal safety agency who is now general counsel for the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, a group that includes Ford Motor, Google and Uber, said the administration’s policy set a framework that should allow manufacturers to “pull this technology together in an expeditious way.”

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