In an article recently published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, President Obama wrote of the potential benefits of self-driving vehicles, including increased safety. He also introduced a new set of rules for the vehicles released by his administration after the publication of the op-ed.
Obama wrote in the article that 94 percent of automobile accidents are the result of human error, and that self-driving cars could save "tens of thousands of lives each year" by taking human error out of the equation.
Specifically, researchers project that self-driving cars could cut crash fatalities by as much as 90 percent, or 29,447 lives in the U.S. annually.
New Regulations for a New Industry
Along with a strong endorsement of the driverless car industry, the U.S. government introduced new regulations. These regulations are designed to get self-driving cars on the roads as quickly as possible, while doing so, of course, in a safe manner.
Federal regulations govern many aspects of the automobile industry. For example, automotive glass alone must meet a slew of safety standards. With these new regulations, however, the government took a more preemptive approach to vehicle safety than it typically did in the past.
The new regulations state that manufacturers must clear their models with the department of transportation before they go to market, an approach that differs from the usual, more lenient approach. The federal government also maintains the power to immediately stop the production of a vehicle if a safety concern comes up.
The new rules outlined 15 things the Department of Transportation will expect automated vehicles to be able to do to be considered safe. Companies will be expected to use these 15 points to test their vehicles as they develop them.
Some of the 15 points covered in the guidelines include how cars will react to technological failure, how they will make decisions in a potential crash situation and how driver data privacy will be protected.
The policy also lays out the roles of federal and state government in regulating the vehicles. Safety standards are the responsibility of the federal government, according to the document. States are in charge when it comes to licensing human drivers. When there is no driver, however, the issue becomes one of vehicle safety, which falls under federal jurisdiction. This means the federal government has more power than the states when it comes to driverless cars.
Some areas present newer challenges and are particularly dubious areas of regulation, such as software changes and data collection -- things with which the Department of Transportation does not have experience.
Speeding Up the Process
The Department of Transportation promised in the document to speed up the process through which it corresponds with vehicle manufacturers about safety standards.
In the past, when an automaker has requested clarification about how a standard applies to a vehicle, or requested an exemption for a test of new vehicles, the Department of Transportation took anywhere from a few months to a few years to reply. In the driverless car policies, the department said it would cut wait time to 60 days. It also said it would speed up the process for creating new rules for novel technologies.
The Future Is Here
Self-driving cars may have seemed like a futuristic, sci-fi dream a few years ago, but the reality of driverless cars is fast approaching. In fact, some automakers project they will release fully automated cars by the year 2020.
These new developments require a myriad of new regulations, and the government is taking a rather innovative approach to the rules regarding this new technology. The government hopes this methodology will speed up the development of the self-driving vehicles, so that our roads become safer as soon as possible.