Tech Firms to Feds: Let's Get Cracking on Self-Driving Car Regulations

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Ready or not, self-driving cars are coming. But first, we need rules of the road from the feds, a process that is slow-going at best.

So Ford, Google, Lyft, Uber, and Volvo have teamed up to create the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, which will "work with lawmakers, regulators, and the public to realize the safety and societal benefits of self-driving vehicles."

What that means is still up in the air; the companies promised more details soon. But at the helm is David Strickland, former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), who worked on self-driving and distracted-driving issues, among other things, during his time at the agency.

"Self-driving vehicle technology will make America's roadways safer and less congested," Strickland said in a statement. "The best path for this innovation is to have one clear set of federal standards, and the Coalition will work with policymakers to find the right solutions that will facilitate the deployment of self-driving vehicles."

Uber, which is working on self-driving car technology at Carnegie Mellon, echoed Strickland's statement. Self-driving cars promise "an exciting future, and one Uber intends to be a part of."

"Eventually, the world will move to one where autonomous vehicles are a major mode of transportation. They'll increase accessibility, affordability—and importantly, improve safety," Lyft Director Taggart Matthiesen said in a statement. "Working with this coalition is a great way to impact the future of transportation and our cities."

Earlier this year, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced a nearly $4 billion, 10-year plan to "accelerate the development and adoption of safe vehicle automation through real-world pilot projects." The investment is part of a plan President Obama mentioned during his final State of the Union address to build a "21st century transportation system."

A March report from the NHTSA, however, found that self-driving cars "may face significant challenges to certification," if the Transportation Department doesn't update its Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) to address self-driving and advanced car technology.

Not surprisingly, the FMVSS—which dates back to 1966—assumes cars will be driven by human occupants. But advances in autonomous car tech means that won't always be the case. As such, existing safety standards make it nearly impossible for automakers to get cars with advanced, automated features certified. That includes things like theft and rollaway prevention, as well as light vehicle brake systems.

"Federal guidelines for autonomous drive technology [are] an urgent issue," a Volvo spokesman told PCMag. "By helping this coalition of industry peers, we can work together to ensure that the United States remains at the forefront of autonomous drive innovation, testing, and development—leading to safer roads for all drivers."

Last month, Google penned a letter to federal transportation officials, urging them to pave the way for self-driving technology to be sold in the US. The memo suggests a "tight but realistic" timeframe for ensuring cars meet federal safety standards.

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