self-driving cars

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind will release documents next month spelling out a basis for national regulations on autonomous vehicles.

The National Traffic Safety Administration will be publishing documents next month spelling out a basis for national regulations on self-driving vehicles. NHTSA’s administrator, Mark Rosekind, made the announcement recently, Jeff Bennett and Mike Ramsey report for The Wall Street Journal.

Rosekind explained:

What the states actually implement is their call. We will have no say in what that states want to do.

Complex Regulatory Maze

This announcement comes as a disappointment to automakers and industry groups, which had been hoping for national rules that would be uniform, instead of a patchwork of state laws. For example:

  • California has proposed banning self-driving cars unless they have steering wheels, pedals, and a licensed driver who can take control of the car in an emergency.
  • Florida would allow any licensed driver to operate a self-driving vehicle.
  • New Jersey is looking to create a special driver’s license for anyone operating and autonomous vehicle.

With each state having its own laws, automakers will have a complex regulatory maze to get through, according to Andrew Meola of The Wall Street Journal. “Therefore, it stands to reason that the first fully autonomous car could be released outside of the U.S.”

Self-Driving Cars on Pace to Reach Market

However, despite the difficulties, automakers and tech companies have made “major strides” towards getting the autonomous cars to market in the U.S., according to a report Senior Research Analyst John Greenough compiled for Business Insider Intelligence. Some of those strides include advances in overcoming high prices of technology components, consumer wariness about autonomous vehicles, and “relatively nonexistent” regulations.

Looking for Answers

Once NHTSA releases its rules documents next month, many questions will be answered, such as why the agency has changed its approach from looking to streamline requirements to deciding to work with each individual state to determine requirements for self-driving vehicles.

But technology is moving faster than the regulations can keep up with, Michael Wayland reported for The Detroit News. The announcement, which will be made by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, will cover the following areas:

  • Deployment and operational guidance
  • Modeling state policies for uniform regulations
  • Structuring interpretations of exemptions to be a more specific process
  • Identifying ‘new tools of authorities’ to help accelerate getting new technologies on American roadways

Working With the Industry

Rosekind said July will be a “turning point” for NHTSA in reacting more quickly to changes in vehicle technology. “We need to be nimble,” he said.

One way the agency can be more nimble is to work with automakers and approve their various technologies before those are installed in vehicles. General Motors is one of the companies NHTSA has been working with. NHTSA has approved GM’s new full-view rearview mirror, which uses camera tech, and which has been installed in the Cadillac CT6 sedan.

NHTSA might eventually need to create a spin-off division that handles autonomous and automated vehicles, Rosekind said. Saying he will be leaving the agency in January, Rosekind added that the current vision can bring the U.S. to where it needs to be safety-wise.

Image Courtesy the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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