NHTSA: U.S. at Historic Turning Point with Self-Driving Cars

At issue: Guidelines and Regulations Must be Put in Place

The first dri­ver­less cars could begin to roll into show­rooms by 2025 – if not soon­er — a pan­el of experts agreed dur­ing the annu­al con­ven­tion of auto­mo­tive engi­neers at the in Detroit in April.

“Whether we’re talk­ing about auto­mat­ed fea­tures in cars today or ful­ly auto­mat­ed vehi­cles of the future, our top pri­or­i­ty is to ensure these vehi­cles – and their occu­pants – are safe,” said .

Legal Ques­tions Top List of Issues:

  • …one of the big ques­tions is whether the liti­gious U.S. legal sys­tem will pre­vent the wide­spread use of autonomous vehi­cles even though the nation’s top auto safe­ty offi­cial has sug­gest­ed self-dri­ving cars could reduce by “thou­sands” the annu­al Amer­i­can high­way death toll.
  • “Con­nect­ed and autonomous vehi­cles will be the car of the future — cars that don’t crash for dri­vers who live in a sea of dis­trac­tion,” pro­claimed Peter Sweat­man, direc­tor of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan Trans­porta­tion Research Insti­tute.
  • Speak­ing at the annu­al Soci­ety of Auto­mo­tive Engi­neers World Con­gress, Sweat­man stressed that, “Dri­ving is not some­thing humans are very good at.”  A look at the data proves his point. At least 10% of the fatal­i­ties on U.S. roads last year involved dis­tract­ed dri­ving. And some form of human error is con­sid­ered the sole fac­tor in 76% of vehi­cle crash­es.
  • Pro­po­nents insist that autonomous vehi­cles, with their cam­eras, laser and radar sen­sors, will be able to tra­verse the nation’s high­ways with­out dis­trac­tion and ulti­mate­ly out­per­form even the best human dri­vers.
  • David Strick­land, the admin­is­tra­tor of the Nation­al High­way Traf­fic Safe­ty Admin­is­tra­tion, recent­ly esti­mat­ed such tech­nol­o­gy could save “thou­sands of lives” annu­al­ly.  He has launched a research project that should lead NHTSA to begin writ­ing rules for autonomous vehi­cles with­in the next two to three years.

Tol­er­ance for Error Will be Small:

  • Iron­i­cal­ly, while pro­po­nents see a bright future for dri­ver­less tech­nol­o­gy, antic­i­pat­ing a sharp decline in vehi­cle col­li­sions, injuries and fatal­i­ties, they also warn that the tol­er­ance for error will be small.
  • “If a dri­ver­less car has just one acci­dent, it will be a whole new dis­cus­sion,” warned Schu­mach­er.
  • In the high­ly liti­gious U.S. legal sys­tem, plain­tiffs’ attor­neys are cer­tain to zero in on any crash involv­ing an autonomous vehi­cle.  That, some observers cau­tion, could force the auto indus­try to hold back on dri­ver­less tech­nol­o­gy, at least in the States, while intro­duc­ing it in oth­er parts of the world where they might spend less time defend­ing them­selves in court.

NHTSA Pre­lim­i­nary State­ment of Pol­i­cy:

. Motor vehi­cles and dri­vers’ rela­tion­ships with them are like­ly to change sig­nif­i­cant­ly in the next ten to twen­ty years, per­haps more than they have changed in the last one hun­dred years. Recent and con­tin­u­ing advances in auto­mo­tive tech­nol­o­gy and cur­rent research on and test­ing of excit­ing vehi­cle inno­va­tions have cre­at­ed com­plete­ly new pos­si­bil­i­ties for improv­ing high­way safe­ty, increas­ing envi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits, expand­ing mobil­i­ty, and cre­at­ing new eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties for jobs and invest­ment.

Read the NHTSA State­ment of pol­i­cy by .

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