By on February 27, 2017

Volvo Autonomous Drive, Image: Volvo Cars

Last September, the Obama administration released a list of 15 guidelines to all automakers looking to develop and market a self-driving vehicle. Companies were asked to voluntarily follow the rules and report back to the federal government with useful information. It was a somewhat confusing exercise and raised a flurry of questions and concerns.

At the time, Obama wrote that the rules would provide “guidance that the manufacturers developing self-driving cars should follow to keep us safe.” Not only would the totally voluntary rules show the government that certain vehicles were safe for public roads, but it would show every interested citizen “how they’re doing it.”

That list is now in the hands of newly minted Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. While the two administrations differ in many areas, Chao seems to be of a similar mind as Obama on the issue of self-driving cars. That doesn’t mean the guidelines won’t change.

“This administration is evaluating this guidance and will consult with you and other stakeholders as we update it and amend it, to ensure that it strikes the right balance,” Chao told the National Governors Association yesterday, according to Reuters. These were Chao’s first public remarks since taking on the new role.

For automakers, there are many potential stumbling blocks contained within the guidelines. Some fear it could delay product testing and prompt select states to turn the list into law. Others would prefer to not hand over so much information to the government.

While Chao said that self-driving vehicles could greatly improve road safety, “There’s a lot at stake in getting this technology right.”

The list’s original intent — to inform the public and dispel distrust in futuristic pilotless cars — remains intact, or so it would seem. Chao said she wants industry to know that the new administration “is a catalyst for safe, efficient technologies, not an impediment,” adding, “In particular, I want to challenge Silicon Valley, Detroit, and all other auto industry hubs to step up and help educate a skeptical public about the benefits of automated technology.”

That said, Chao remains concerned about the impact fleets of self-driving vehicles might have on employment levels. Many fields, from truckers to transit and taxi drivers, could see the number of human drivers drop once businesses adopt the technology.

[Image: Volvo Cars]

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9 Comments on “New Transportation Secretary Has Obama’s Self-driving Guidelines Under a Microscope...”

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  • avatar

    A self driving car may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

    A self driving car must obey the traffic laws given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

    A self driving car must keep right except to pass as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

  • avatar

    Yes! A strong leader like Drumpf can make AVs the next great Can Do project like Manhattan and Apollo!

  • avatar

    Elaine Chao is a reasonable, if ruthless, person. As long as her boss stays too busy tweeting about how fake the news is to pay any attention, this will turn out just fine.

  • avatar

    While watching the Tesla video last month ( it was sped up, about 3 minutes long). I noticed multiple times where the car made bad defensive driving mistakes. Example, stopped at intersections with the wheels turned to the left, waiting to turn.

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    Well, I think autonomous cars should be forced to attend driving school and take a road test at the DMV, just like people. Let’s see how they do with a tester who mumbles ‘turn left’ too late to do it safely to see how it reacts.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, if you can’t react to an instruction in time, you just keep going and make the next safe turn. That’s the safe thing for a human to do**, and it’s what I’d expect the machine to do as well.

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