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U.S. DOT sets federal policy for self-driving cars

University of Michigan
MCity tests self-driving cars before they go into the world

The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued federal policy for automated, or self-driving vehicles, to spur innovation while taking a proactive approach to safety.

"Automated vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives," says U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "This policy is an unprecedented step by the federal government to harness the benefits of transformative technology by providing a framework for how to do it safely.

Automakers and others developing self-driving cars will be expected to abide by a 15-point safety assessment as they develop and test the cars. Foxx says the guidelines move beyond the traditional U.S. auto regulation approach of reactive, post-sale enforcement of safety standards.

"Ninety-four percent of crashes on U.S. roadways are caused by a human choice or error," says NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. "We are moving forward on the safe deployment of automated technologies because of the enormous promise they hold to address the overwhelming majority of crashes and save lives."

The government says it plans to strive for a more nimble approach that can swiftly consider innovative designs, allowing for faster deployment of the cars without jeopardizing public safety.

"And we will not hesitate to use our recall authority when we have identified a vehicle that represents an unreasonable risk to safety," says Rosekind.

NHTSA will place particular emphasis on monitoring semi-autonomous driving systems that fail to adequately account for the possibility that a distracted or inattentive driver-occupant might fail to retake control of the vehicle in a safety-critical situation.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.