The United States Department of Transportation will publish the country's first federal guidelines for self-driving cars on its website on Sept. 20, with the new policies to become the government's first attempt in addressing the concerns surrounding the technology.
Previously, self-driving car manufacturers have operated under regulations that are different from state to state. With the new guidelines, the federal government will put an end to the confusion.
The guidelines will discuss all aspects of self-driving cars, including their manufacturing and sale, and will cover everything from the Autopilot feature of Tesla Motors to the Google driverless cars with no steering wheel and foot pedals. The companies that will build and test the vehicles will also have new requirements of sharing extensive data with federal regulators and will be required to provide plans on the prevention of system hacks.
The automobile companies and tech firms involved in self-driving cars will need to pass a 15-point safety assessment, which includes details on how their platform will address ethical and conflict situations that it may encounter and how vehicles have been programmed to follow traffic laws. The assessment will determine whether the self-driving vehicle is safe to be unleashed on public roads.
The Department of Transportation created the guidelines alongside the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with the policies partly based on the feedback of the general public after several hearings. In these hearings, representatives for companies that are making huge investments into self-driving technology placed a huge emphasis on needing national laws that will govern the deployment of the vehicles.
Department of Transportation and National Economic Council representatives confirmed that they are onboard with avoiding inconsistent regulations as enforced by state governments. This is because such varying policies could prevent the growth of self-driving technology, which would allow other countries to catch up and overtake the United States in its development.
A fact sheet that was provided in advance of the official guidelines revealed that state governments will retain control over whether companies can test their self-driving vehicles on public roads, how the rules will be enforced, the registration of self-driving vehicles and liability and insurance issues.
The federal government, meanwhile, will take over the licensing duties for self-driving software, which includes the 15-point safety assessment.
According to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the guidelines will be an evolving document, with 60 days for public comment and annual updates to be applied.
The pending release of the guidelines puts the spotlight on various self-driving car technologies that are now out in the open, including Uber's self-driving cars that are being tested in Pittsburgh and the controversial Autopilot feature of Tesla Motors.