Self-Driving Car Guidelines Call for Information Sharing

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A Google self-driving car.

Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • U.S. Transportation Department said to release rules Tuesday
  • States to be encouraged to pass uniform autonomous-car bills

The Obama administration is set to unveil a policy framework Tuesday to govern the development of self-driving cars, including new ways for automakers to share information on emerging technology with the government, according to people familiar with the announcement.

The guidelines have been eagerly anticipated by the tech industry and automakers hoping to get in on the anticipated revolution in transportation. The administration’s approach appears to mirror calls from the industry for flexible measures rather than rigid regulations, the people said.

The U.S. Transportation Department’s guidance is expected to include recommendations for states to pass legislation on introducing self-driving cars safely on their highways, according to three people involved in their development who spoke on the condition they not be identified until the information is made public.

The guidelines are also expected to clarify how its current rules and regulations, which were formed in the 1960s, will be applied to emerging technology.

Companies that have invested in developing the vehicles, including Tesla Motors Inc., General Motors Co. and Google parent Alphabet Inc., have urged regulators to use a light touch in the guidelines, so as to not kill off innovation. At the same time, the industry says federal leadership is needed before dozens of states pass their own contradictory sets of laws.

The people familiar with the guidelines said it should meet the standard of flexibility sought by the automakers.

Technological Progress

Earlier this year, the Transportation Department said it would allow automakers that can demonstrate they have developed a safe autonomous vehicle to apply for exemptions to certain rules. It marked a new approach to auto regulations designed to ensure the government doesn’t stand in the way of technological progress.

Regulators promised a quick response to companies that ask for interpretations of safety regulations applied to new autonomous features that seem to fall through the cracks of current rules. In one of the first applications of that policy, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in February that Google’s artificial intelligence system would be considered a driver under federal rules.

Mark Rosekind, NHTSA’s administrator, has said the self-driving car plan would be key to the agency’s attempts to focus on human error, which the agency estimates is a factor in 94 percent of fatal car crashes. Those crashes killed more than 35,000 people in the U.S. last year.

Earlier this year, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced a $4 billion grant program over 10 years to fund pilot projects with automated vehicles. That proposal hasn’t gone anywhere in congress, which would have to approve the funds.

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