As automakers continue to develop groundbreaking autonomous vehicle systems, governments and safety organizations are scrambling to keep up with the rate of technological development. Self-driving vehicles present a whole host of new safety and liability considerations and infrastructure demands, and our current laws and safety measures aren’t well-suited to tackling these challenges. As a result, the U.S. Department of Transportation has announced that it is working on a new set of regulations and laws concerning self-driving vehicles. Is this yet another sign that the self-driving future is almost here?
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao announced the DOT’s plans at a press briefing during of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit which just opened January 13. Chao told reporters that the new regulations aren’t just about protecting drivers, but are also intended to remove “barriers to the safe integration of autonomous technology for motor carriers, transit, trucks, infrastructure and other modes” of transportation. “The technology is there, the question is how do we regulate it, how do we continue to promote innovation but also safeguard safety,” Chao said. “Our approach will be tech-neutral and flexible — not top-down, or command and control.”
Many current regulations contain language which could block many autonomous vehicles from U.S roads due to the fact that existing regulations were written for vehicles with human drivers in mind. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also examining its regulations to help facilitate the seamless integration of autonomous vehicles and remove regulatory barriers which might hamper the release of vehicles without human controls.
Chao noted that one of the most significant barriers to autonomous vehicles is consumer acceptance. Chevy is planning on releasing the Cruise AV in 2019 without a steering wheel, pedals, or manual controls of any kind, and many commentators have noted that car buyers might be turned off by the idea of getting into a car without controls. What will it take to get consumers on board with self-driving vehicles?