The US Department of Transportation UU He called a "listening session" on autonomous vehicles at its headquarters in Washington, DC, last week, and the key word here is "listen." It was an opportunity for the private sector and federal and state regulators to get together to talk about the future, in which human driving becomes a passenger and driverless cars become the dominant form of transportation.
Most people are still very skeptical about cars that drive cars, but if the government was nervous about the next revolution in driverless technology, it did not show it. In one speech after another, public officials emphasized the extreme laissez-faire approach they were taking for the driverless cars they have been promoting for several years. They argue that this technology should be allowed to progress without restrictions according to government rules. All guidelines would be completely voluntary, and anything that could be perceived as a mandate or a requirement was dismissed as an impediment to innovation.
"The market will decide which is the most effective solution."
"We are not in the business, we do not know how, to choose the best technology or choose the winners," said Elaine Chao, transport secretary. "We are not in the business of choosing winners or losers, the market will decide which is the most effective solution."
Chao has been repeating some version of this comment in car shows and other public appearances since she was named Trump's transportation secretary. And in many ways, it is not a great departure from the position of your predecessor under the Obama administration. The Department of Transportation's first policy guide on autonomous vehicles, launched in 2016, was also completely voluntary, and outlined a 15-point "safety assessment" that manufacturers were encouraged to comply with.
But according to Trump's philosophy that all regulations are onerous, Chao has tried to minimize the role his department will play in overseeing the deployment of driverless cars, while still trying to keep some skin in the game. His version of the orientation document from Obama's time was remarkably shorter, and contains the phrase "voluntary guidance" at least five times in the first five paragraphs. Automakers applauded the slimmer version, while some Democratic lawmakers accused the administration of giving in to the industry and pressuring states to refrain from taking action. She said a third version covering trucks, trains and buses would be launched this summer.
Meanwhile, Congress continues to reflect on legislation that could open the door wide so that more cars that drive themselves hit the road. However, a bill in the Senate is stalled after several Senate Democrats detained him for security reasons. Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey advocates a stricter standard for preventing cyber attacks and protecting consumer privacy in driverless cars.
That could conflict with the non-intervention attitude adopted by the Department of Transportation. "We are not going to select what [technology] should be used," said Derek Kan, deputy secretary of transportation policy, while listening to representatives of companies such as Waymo, Uber and GM. "We are looking for ways to evaluate the results." Instead of a regulation that says: "The machine must have A, B and C in a vehicle," we hope to see how safe a vehicle is at the other end. .
It's a delicate balance that the federal government must attack
It's a delicate balance that the federal government must face, especially with lobbyists from big companies like Google and Uber who spend millions of dollars to convince regulators that driverless cars could usher in an era of safer streets and with fewer deaths on the roads. And with almost 40,000 deaths in traffic accidents each year, it's a noble mission. But security advocates argue that even minimum requirements for the private sector could help ensure that our privacy is protected, our cars are safe from hackers and that the companies that build these cars have an incentive to share and disclose information. key metrics about their tests.
For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) could require companies wishing to test autonomous vehicles on public roads to submit more detailed data in addition to the disconnection reports that some states such as California currently require. The current Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) cover everything from windshield wipers to brake fluids, but they say nothing about the perception of autonomous vehicles. The government could affirm definitively that certain sensors, such as LIDAR or cameras, are necessary for the safe operation of a car without a driver. But some would argue that the government is trying to choose which technology is better and, therefore, would be guilty of determining winners and losers.
Instead, regulators are advocating exemptions and raising the limit on the number of vehicles each year that are exempt from the current FMVSS. This in turn would allow automotive and technology companies to flood the streets with cars that lack traditional controls such as steering wheels and pedals. It is a risky measure, especially if people remain skeptical about technology, as recent surveys suggest.
"NHTSA is not doing enough and the automotive companies are not making meaningful test data," said Missy Cummings, a former naval pilot who heads the Human and Autonomy Laboratory at Duke University.
"NHTSA is not doing enough"
Traditionally, the division between federal and state governments related to motor vehicles has been simple: federals dictate safety regulations and issue recalls, while states authorize drivers and regulate behavior and enforce speed limits. This could change in the future, as driverless cars become more dominant. The federals may see their role expanded, while the states become more backward.
State governments are currently rushing to enact permissive regulations for autonomous vehicles in the hope of convincing high-level companies to launch test programs within their borders. Twenty-one states and Washington D.C. have approved legislation related to autonomous vehicles, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 2017, 33 states introduced legislation related to autonomous vehicles, compared to 20 states in 2016. But if the Senate approves its legislation to prevent states from adopting a stricter standard than the federal government for driverless cars, there could be confusion about what rules still apply.
During the listening session, the transport officials admitted being slightly out of reach when it comes to the technology that supports autonomous driving. "We, as regulators, have to realize that VAs are coming," said Steven Bradbury, DOT's general counsel. "I do not share the skepticism about the times, I think it's coming very fast … this is the next transformational wave in transportation technology, and it's going to be on us in the short term, whether we do it." be ready or not. "