Rivals become allies to fight for a common cause as Google and four other companies join forces to form a coalition for self-driving car adoption.
Car-making competitors Volvo and Ford, ride-sharing opponents Uber and Lyft and technology stalwart Google are leading the charge to urge government action on the adoption of self-driving vehicles.
Some states are working on their own autonomous driving laws but the laws differ widely from state to state.
David Strickland, the former head of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), will be the new group's spokesman and counsel. The NHTSA is the U.S. auto safety agency that is drawing up new guidance on self-driving cars, which it hopes to release in July.
Strickland told Newsweek that the coalition's main role is to provide all the necessary data and policy inputs to create "one clear set of federal standards" as a unified voice.
"The reason why these companies got together is that we see states taking actions and new rules and the federal government doing the same. They want to be a voice to bring self-driving cars to the public as quickly as possible," Strickland said.
The coalition plans to work with local governments, civic organizations and businesses to help promote the vision that self-driving cars can safely roam American roads.
NHTSA reported that more than 30,000 fatalities and 2.3 million injuries resulted from 6.1 million crashes on American roads in 2014. The transportation agency also revealed that about 94 percent of crashes are caused by human error and that vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 29.
The U.S. Department of Transportation and the coalition see the possibility of self-driving cars helping to reduce the frequency and severity of vehicular crashes.
"Self-driving technology will enhance public safety and mobility for the elderly and disabled, reduce traffic congestion, improve environmental quality and advance transportation efficiency," said the coalition in a statement.
Getting The Government On Board
Early this year, the Obama administration unveiled a plan to support research work into autonomous driving by budgeting about $4 billion for the research over the next 10 years.
The plan is an effort to head off what could become a patchwork of laws and set the foundation for state officials, manufacturers and consumers to use the potential of new technologies and ensure the safety of self-driving cars, said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Self-parking and lane control are among the most common autonomous driving features that are already included in some cars on the production line.
Tesla, for its part, launched a feature called "Summon" that can autonomously drive the car into a parking space and steer it back to the driver on command. Initially, it is working on a short distance, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk said it could be made to work nationwide, say from LA to NY. Current laws, however, wouldn't allow such an unattended long drive, hence the need for new legislation.
Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson said in a speech in Washington, D.C. in October that the U.S. stands to lose its leading position in the autonomous driving industry if federal legislation for the testing and certification of self-driving vehicles doesn't come quick enough.
A letter sent by the NHTSA to Google in February, conceding that the artificial intelligence that autopilots Google's autonomous car can be considered a "driver," may be a signal of good things to come.
Photo: Andre Torrez | Flickr