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NHTSA Launches Four-Year Study of Self-Driving Cars

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Google driverless car in California

Google driverless car in California.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is launching a four-year research project to examine the safety of, and federal rules for, self-driving cars, writes Fred Meier in USA TODAY. Meier notes that laws regarding the licensing and operation of vehicles are usually created and enforced on a state level. The agency also urges states to be cautious in allowing the use of such vehicles on roads in non-test situations.

In making its announcement yesterday [May 30], NHTSA said it is also doing more research on other vehicle automation features that assist drivers by reacting to hazards if the driver does not, such as lane departure, blind-spot warnings, and collision mitigation technology, Meier writes. Such research could lead to the requirement of such features on all new cars, in the way that stability control is currently required.

Bloomberg Businessweek’s Angela Greiling Keane quotes NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, who said: “We see tremendous promise in these technologies whether you’re looking at the current active safety systems in some vehicles today or whether you’re looking at a truly autonomous vehicle.”

Meier quotes U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood:

‘Whether we’re talking about automated features in cars today or fully automated vehicles of the future, our top priority is to ensure these vehicles — and their occupants — are safe,’ said Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement. ‘Our research covers all levels of automation, including advances like automatic braking that may save lives in the near term, while the recommendations to states help them better oversee self-driving vehicle development, which holds promising long-term safety benefits.’

Nevada was the first state to allow road testing of self-driving cars, and California and Florida also allow them in some situations and with restrictions, Meier writes. Google, the best known of such autonomous vehicles, has done several hundred thousand miles of testing.

Although NHTSA has said that as many as 80% of car accidents involving non-impaired drivers can be prevented or reduced in severity with the help of vehicle-to-vehicle short-range communication technology, its policy might conflict with that of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Keane writes.

The FCC is calling for broader Wi-Fi use in airwaves near the ones allocated since 1999 to car-to-car wireless communications, Keane writes. But two automotive trade groups this week urged the FCC not to allow the spectrum to be shared without more testing. The groups say that broader Wi-Fi use risks jamming accident-prevention technology that might cost as little as $100 per vehicle and save thousands of lives per year.

Keane notes that Mike Stanton, CEO of the Association of Global Automakers (AGA), said that because vehicle-to-vehicle safety technologies can significantly reduce fatalities and injuries from vehicle accidents, it is important for the FCC to “do its homework to ensure there is no risk involved with spectrum sharing.”

AGA is joined in this issue by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, and the two groups represent all major automakers that sell cars in the U.S.


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