By on July 13, 2018

vision 2.0 NHTSA Autonomous vehicles

Heidi King, deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, claims it’s too soon to begin imposing rules on self-driving vehicles. Thus far, the NHTSA as taken a supremely lax posture on handling autonomous vehicles in the hopes that a softer touch will assist in their swift development.

However, a cluster of fatal incidents involving advanced driving technology created fresh paranoia within the government.

While the argument could be made that those accidents demand a response from federal regulators, it’s also clear the government doesn’t have a firm grasp on the technology. Likewise, there’s little consensus among automakers that have only recently begun discussing how these vehicles should be standardized, and loads of conflicting opinions exist on the matter of safety. In the short term, advanced electronic aids allow motorists to become worse at driving. But, if fully autonomous vehicles function as intended, their long-term safety benefits could be immense.

The NHTSA claims the resulting confusion means it’s too early in the process to make any kind of definitive rulings.

“At this point the technology is so nascent I don’t think it is appropriate today to regulate this technology,” King said in an interview with Bloomberg. “It’s not there yet, but each and every day we are open to identifying when the time is right.”

Deciphering when the right time will be is going to be difficult, however. While automakers are likely appreciative of the agency’s hands-off approach, the industry won’t be pleased if the technology is allowed to progress unimpeded for years, then halted by new regulatory measures nobody saw coming.

As certain safety advocacy groups seek new rules, King said NHTSA is focused on dismantling old ones that could impede autonomous technology’s current progression. This year, the agency issued a request for comment from the industry to identify problematic vehicle standards while simultaneously holding roundtable talks to gain a clearer picture of where development is heading.

“In the grand scheme of things in saving lives, impaired drivers and flawed human choices are still the big problems we need to solve as a nation,” King said.

The NHTSA has held the assumption that self-driving cars will ultimately reduce the number of roadway fatalities. But we’ve seen an increase in life-ending accidents since advanced driving technologies became more prevalent. Data from the agency showed fatalities increasing by 10 percent in 2015 and 5.2 percent in 2016.

Figures from last year are inconclusive, but estimates from the National Safety Council claim little to no change. It accused distracted driving and higher speed limits as the primary culprits for the worsening situation and theorized that advanced driving aids may have helped offset the danger.

[Image: NHTSA]

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16 Comments on “NHTSA Deputy Administrator: There’s No Need to Regulate Autonomous Cars...”

  • avatar

    As soon as a celebrity, or a few children are killed, there will be a tsunami of regulation. Until then, the NHTSA may as well be the NHRA.

  • avatar

    Regardless of regulation, this will be a windfall for personal injury lawyers. Take the TV commercials and replace “BIG TRUCKS!” with “ROBOT CARS!”.

  • avatar

    I’m sorry, but this is bat-s**t crazy. I’m the first person that runs when a conversation starts with “hello, we’re the Federal Government and here to help you”…

    How does a governmental agency educate themselves? Is it even possible? My company was asked by the Library of Congress to create standards for Commercial Label Deliverables (music projects from labels), they put up half and we did the work as in-kind matching funds. While it took 8-10 years, the project is successful, and the IP has been placed in a repository where it is available for free to anyone in the world and helps performers and artists get paid in the digital streaming environment. To me, that’s a good example of how things can work. When we got our Grant, AMPAS (the Oscars) was the only other private entity that got Federal funding, and that went to creating best practices for preserving born-digital films.

    I state all of this because it’s one example of how the government learned by partnering up with private industry. NHTSA really needs to do the same thing and get up to speed.

    • 0 avatar

      I watched an interview with Shirley Manson about how badly artists get ripped off in the digital era, it was a real eye opener. Labels do next to nothing but reap millions. Fortunately for her, Garbage was able to buy back the rights to their music, but many artists can’t.

      • 0 avatar

        Sub, there’s a reason why over $2 billion remains in the major US label’s books as “suspense accounts”, meaning they can’t find who they are supposed to pay! And why should they try when the streaming services pay them 60% off of their top-line revenue for “blanket” licensing?

        And they still try to enforce 15% “breakage” fees that date back to when physical product could get damaged in transit. Seen many “broken” digital files lately?

  • avatar



  • avatar

    If I get killed by somebody’s autonomous vehicle while things are still being worked out, I’m going to be so angry.

  • avatar

    I’m not sure if its worse to casually gloss over the challenges of autonomous vehicles while citing laissez faire or if it’s worse to fatalistically admit the government has no idea what’s going on and they can’t stop bad tech companies from ruining our lives.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “But we’ve seen an increase in life-ending accidents since advanced driving technologies became more prevalent.”

    Correlation is not causation. In that same time period, we’ve also seen an increase in fentanyl-related deaths, but nobody is blaming Autopilot for that.

    As for the NHTSA, we must be living in the Idiocracy.

  • avatar

    The dawn of autonomous vehicles is literally the last chance for the NHTSA to make a real difference and protect Americans on the road from bad AI.

    Sensible regulation will save lives…this is criminal negligence…but luckily it is only temporary…

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    REGULATORS!!!! Munt Up!

    – Warren G

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