Federal Government Takes Unprecedented Steps to Regulate Self-Driving Vehicles

Federal Government Takes Unprecedented Steps to Regulate Self-Driving Vehicles

Federal Government Takes Unprecedented Steps to Regulate Self-Driving Vehicles

In the wake of a few fatal crashes in Florida and China involving Tesla’s Model S sedans, and as Uber goes live in Pittsburgh with self-driving cars, the federal government, in the form of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is poised to issue a barrage of new regulations aimed at the technology companies and automakers involved in autonomous transportation. The unprecedented manner in which these regulations are being promulgated, in advance of the technology being widely deployed, highlights the manner in which autonomous driving technology has rapidly ascended from science fiction to Google "moonshot" project to a crowded marketplace poised to radically transform our society in the coming years. In fact, Lyft cofounder John Zimmer recently issued a long diatribe in which he declared that most of his ride-hailing company's cars would drive themselves in just five years. Traditionally the Department has sets guidelines for automakers who have vehicles on the road and then used recalls to address defective cars. However, in this instance, faced with a growing number of self-driving car tests on roads across the country and rapidly expanding use of (somewhat concerning) driver assist technology, the DOT will require any new tech to meet a 15-point safety assessment. The DOT is also considering expanded powers to allow administrators to limit the deployment of self-driving vehicles and will issue model policies for states aimed at developing a cohesive set of national regulations for self-driving vehicles. Moreover, government officials have made it clear that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will have the power to take any vehicle whose technology poses a safety risk off the road, including those that utilize semi-autonomous driving systems - ones in which the human continues to monitor the road and perform some of the driving tasks. In an editorial posted on the website of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, President Obama commented that "[r]egulation can go too far,” and allowed that some argue government "should stay out of free enterprise entirely, but I think most Americans would agree we still need rules to keep our air and water clean, and our food and medicine safe. That’s the general principle here. What’s more, the quickest way to slam the brakes on innovation is for the public to lose confidence in the safety of new technologies." Ford, Google and others are currently testing some form of self-driving cars in California. Google is also road-testing its autonomous fleet in Texas, Arizona and Washington. Testing of Ford’s technology continues in Michigan, while Uber recently began picking up passengers in Pittsburgh in a first-of-its kind experiment. Hopefully the new regulations being promulgated provide adequate guidance to ensure the safety of people interacting with this new technology while retaining ample flexibility to continue to allow this rapidly developing technology to progress to a point where it can become mainstream.