Trump Administration Introduces Industry-Friendly Guidelines for Self-Driving Cars

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao unveiled Tuesday a tweaked and looser set of voluntary safety guidelines aimed at making it easier for GM, Ford, Google’s Waymo, Uber, and other automakers and startups to develop and test self-driving cars.

Chao emphasized that the development of advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous vehicles will help reduce fatal traffic accidents and spur job growth.

The Trump Administration document, A Vision for Safety 2.0, does contain a few notable revisions to the voluntary guidelines issued last year by the Obama administration. This new version gives automakers more freedom to test autonomous vehicles and pulls back on government interference.

Two points worth noting:

  • the Obama-era version asked automakers to voluntarily submit details of self-driving vehicle systems to regulators—a 15 point “safety assessment.” That language is now gone.
  • states are being asked to review traffic laws and regulations that could be a barrier to testing autonomous vehicle technology, adopt the feds’ voluntary recommendations into law and at the very least, provide a “technology-neutral” environment that doesn’t favor automakers over startups.

Reaction was mixed. Consumer watch groups and advocates, including Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Schakowsky (D-IL) called the new guidance a “step backwards” and a move that will make roads unsafe. Meanwhile, companies working on self-driving cars, including Intel (INTC), Bosch, and an industry group founded by Ford (F), Google (GOOG), Lyft, Uber, and Volvo Cars cheered by the new guidelines.

Companies and consumer groups can expect further changes to the guidelines. The DOT and National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration is already working on a “3.0” version that will be released in 2018 and offer an even more flexible approach to automated vehicle safety technologies, Chao said during a Tuesday press conference in Michigan that was broadcast via webcast Tuesday.

Last week, Congress also took action on self-driving car legislation. The U.S. House approved Sept. 6 a bipartisan bill that, if passed by the Senate, will create a federal framework for regulating self-driving cars and give companies racing to deploy the technology the ability to scale up more quickly.

The SELF-DRIVE ACT would allow tech companies, automakers, and startups—a diverse group that includes Google’s Waymo, Audi, GM, Ford, Tesla, as well as startups such as Aurora Innovation, NuTonomy, and—to put as many as 100,000 autonomous vehicles on the road annually. A draft of a Senate self-driving car bill was released last week by Senators John Thune, R-South Dakota , and Gary Peters, D-Michigan Democrat.

As that bill makes its way through the legislative process, the policy introduced Tuesday by Chao provides guidelines for automakers and others developing autonomous vehicles.

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