Obama Outlines Self-Driving Car Guidelines

Published: September 20, 2016 9:56 PM /


White House

Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an editorial by President Obama, outlining federal guidelines for self-driving cars. The article mentions that deaths caused by car crashes are a serious problem, and that self-driving cars have the potential to reduce the number of accidents as well as bring other benefits like reduced congestion and pollution. However, he believes that regulations are needed to make sure this technology is safe.

He states, "That’s why my administration is rolling out new rules of the road for automated vehicles – guidance that the manufacturers developing self-driving cars should follow to keep us safe. And we’re asking them to sign a 15-point safety checklist showing not just the government, but every interested American, how they’re doing it." The use of the word "asking" makes it sound like a request that manufacturers could refuse, but later in the article the president uses stronger language stating, "And make no mistake: If a self-driving car isn’t safe, we have the authority to pull it off the road. We won’t hesitate to protect the American public’s safety."

Obama also mentions the importance of cooperation with state governments. He says, "We’re also giving guidance to states on how to wisely regulate these new technologies, so that when a self-driving car crosses from Ohio into Pennsylvania, its passengers can be confident that other vehicles will be just as responsibly deployed and just as safe."

Yesterday's post contained only a broad outline, but today the Department of Transportation(DOT) published the new guidelines. As mentioned by the President in his article, there is a 15 point checklist of that manufacturers are supposed to use make sure their vehicles are safe. Some of the areas include object detection, vehicle cyber security, and data recording and sharing. DOT is asking manufacturers to voluntarily send reports to demonstrate how the vehicles meet the standards in all 15 areas. DOT states that these guidelines are just the first step. The department is seeking comments from the general public as well as review by experts to help it decide on what the next step should be.

The guidelines also discuss the division in authority between state and federal government. Typically the states deal with traffic laws, issuing of drivers licenses, and insurance, while the federal government sets the rules for the safety of the vehicles themselves. DOT discourages states from regulating the hardware or software components of self-driving cars and asks that they leave it in the hands of the federal government. However, it does admit that states may need some limited regulation of automated "drivers" for the purpose of enforcing traffic laws. If states do regulate the vehicles, DOT asks them to coordinate with the federal government.

The document also discusses DOT's current regulatory authority, and additional authority that might be granted by future legislation. Currently, DOT has no way of stopping vehicles from being brought to the market, and manufacturers are responsible for self-certifying that their vehicles are compliant with federal safety standards. However, DOT can issue a recall if random testing of vehicles proves they are not compliant. DOT suggests the possibility of granting it the authority to approve or reject vehicles before they reach the market. Another new power brought up for consideration is the ability to regulate post-sale software updates.

Are these guidelines a good step for road safety? Leave your comments below.

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I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.