Transportation Secretary Says Autonomous Vehicle Guidelines Coming Soon

Automakers and tech companies are anxiously waiting for the new Trump administration transportation secretary to issue federal guidelines on autonomous vehicles.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said on Monday that the administration will release revised self-driving guidelines within the next few months. While not specifying the revised rules, Chao acknowledged that a clear federal policy is being called for – and one that won’t bind the technology innovations for autonomous vehicles to make it to U.S. roads.

“The pressure is mounting for the federal government to do something” about autonomous vehicles, Chao said in Detroit.

The agency will be careful to set realistic guidelines governing autonomous vehicles nationwide without restricting the technology from moving forward.

“We don’t want rules that impede future technological advances,” Chao said.

Specific guidelines were not discussed by the transportation secretary, or how they would differ from the Obama administration guidelines.

Last year in September, the Obama administration issued long-awaited guidelines that emphasized safety in autonomous driving, nationwide policy unity, and eliminating barriers to bringing the advanced technology forward.

Automakers and leading technology players like Waymo have asked the new transportation secretary to eliminate blocks that they say are still part of the Obama administration’s 15-point safety standard for the design and development of autonomous vehicles.

Reuters reported that automakers had been meeting with Chao on several occasions in recent months. They’ve urged Chao to make changes to Obama-era automated vehicle rules.

Concerns raised include requirements that they hand over too much data to the government, and that the current rules could delay testing for several months and would eventually lead to a few states intervening and issuing their own guidelines.

State rules have varied with California, Arizona, Nevada, and Michigan taking leading roles in supporting the technology development toward, eventually, fully autonomous vehicles.

Legislators in Washington are taking the matter into their own hands, with Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee working on legislation to make it easier to move self-driving cars forward. A U.S. Senate committee will have a hearing this month on self-driving cars.

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Ford Motor Co. has made commitments to bringing autonomous vehicles and shared ride services to market before other companies.

Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. said at a forum in Washington he feels “quite confident” that the technology will be ready by 2021 for self-driving cars.

Like many other executives speaking to the issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, Ford has expressed concerns over the big issue hovering on the horizon.

“Things like ethics,” Ford said.

The Ford executive chairman wonders whether automated vehicles will opt to save pedestrians or the driver. He doesn’t think the ethical issues can be separated from the new software and hardware, and that players in the technology’s development should work together.

Ford’s CTO thinks the federal government should provide a more clear structure.

“We need a more concrete regulatory framework,” Ken Washington, chief technology officer of Ford, said in Detroit.

Waymo thinks that autonomous vehicles are more likely to be placed and tested first in specific mobility options before going mass market.

“Managed fleet operations” is more likely where autonomous vehicles will first appear, rather than as vehicles sold directly to consumers, said Ron Medford, Waymo’s director of safety.

Chao may have more credibility and influence with automakers than do other Trump administration agency heads, including Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt.

The wife of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell previously served as undersecretary of transportation. She’d also previously been labor secretary under George W. Bush.

Pressure is also mounting for Chao to announce that the Trump administration will be launching its promised trillion dollar infrastructure bill to modernize the U.S. highway infrastructure.



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