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U.S. Moving Towards Setting Performance Standards for Driverless Cars

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A man in a moving Volvo that is part of an autonomous "road train."

A man reads a newspaper while at the wheel of a moving Volvo in the company’s Safe Road Trains for the Environment “road train,” which uses autonomous car technology but has not yet been approved for sale. This shot is excerpted from the video that appears at the end of the post.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is moving towards setting performance standards for autonomous cars, reports David Shepardson for The Detroit News. David Strickland, NHTSA’s administrator, told a forum on Tuesday that the agency is preparing regulations to that effect, and that it will take two or three years of research before it begins writing rules, Shepardson writes.

Shepardson goes on to say:

Strickland said driverless cars could be a ‘game changer,’ allowing the blind and senior citizens who can no longer drive safely to use cars for personal mobility. The vehicles could also have other benefits, including cutting some of the $100 billion in annual congestion costs and reduce fuel use, he said.

But NHTSA needs to make sure such vehicles are effective and reliable — and that consumers will have confidence in them and their features, including ensuring the security of software to make sure hackers can’t interfere with a driverless vehicle.

Strickland noted that a “huge amount of work” is needed before such vehicles are available before people to use for transportation, and that his agency may need to develop new crash tests for driverless vehicles.

Google, which developed its autonomous car in secret, as Angela Greiling Keane writes for Bloomberg Businessweek, has been testing it on roads in California and Nevada. Florida has also authorized testing of self-driving vehicles, and similar legislation has been proposed in several other states and the District of Columbia, according to Joan Lowy writing for the Associated Press on

Volvo is also working on driverless car technology, Keane writes, in order to eliminate deaths among people driving its cars by 2020. Peter Mertens, senior vice president for research and development at Volvo, said his company wants U.S. regulators to take the lead to avoid restrictions of testing or use of the technologies should states pass varying laws. Keane writes that Ron Medford, NHTSA’s deputy administrator, said the agency’s discussions about state autonomous vehicle laws have been mostly with Nevada and California.

Lowy quotes Strickland, who spoke at an industry gathering sponsored by Swedish automaker Volvo and the Swedish embassy in Washington:

‘Automated vehicles offer an important and challenging method for reducing crash risk that we believes holds great promise,’ Strickland said. He noted that human error was a factor in about 90 percent of the over 33,000 traffic deaths recorded in 2010. ‘We have the chance of […] saving thousands and thousands of lives as the vehicle fleet (cars in use today) turns over,’ he said.

You can see a demonstration of Volvo’s autonomous “road train” technology in this video:


One Response to “U.S. Moving Towards Setting Performance Standards for Driverless Cars”


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