SAFETY: US Government Guidelines for Autonomous Cars are Finally Happening

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Autonomous driving

There are issues beyond making the technology work that are keeping autonomous cars from populating our roads. Those issues have a lot to do with safety and how the government will regulate these vehicles. The Obama administration is addressing that concern by releasing guidelines for a safety assessment that will be required of every autonomous vehicle before it can be sold and driven on US roads.

It’s not a short list. Automakers will need to provide documentation on 15 areas including how a car detects objects in the road, how it shows information to drivers, and what kind of security is in place to make sure that a car isn’t hacked. Although this is new for autonomous cars, adhering to government regulations has been the way of things for the auto industry for over 50 years.

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The difference now is that it won’t be a matter of checking to make sure that cars meet safety standards after the sale, but of making sure they meet those standards before the sale. Yes, there are things every vehicle must have before it can hit the road, but crash tests, for example, are done on cars that are already for sale. A car can perform poorly and that won’t stop an automaker from selling it to the public.

The policy is expected to take effect when it’s published on Tuesday. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration will be taking action on the policy in the coming months. To assure the public that the government is trying to help not hurt autonomous sales, President Obama published an op-ed piece in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on Monday explaining why they’re doing what they’re doing.

In the piece, Obama talks about how much things have changed during his years in office and the challenges of ensuring autonomous vehicles are safe. Of course, for the government that means regulation to help the private sector do the right thing. The private sector might disagree with the government’s level of oversight, which Obama acknowledges is the challenge of regulating emerging technologies.

These new guidelines certainly won’t speed up the rate at which we have self-driving cars, but Obama sees it as a necessary part of the process. Safety first is his mantra.

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In the end, ensuring a safer autonomous car gives them a better chance of being embraced by the public. The recent issues with Tesla’s AutoPilot set people on edge. Accidents erode public confidence, which means people won’t want to buy these cars.

It was never a matter of whether or not we’d have government regulations, but of how long it would take for the government to make them official. In the interest of safety, that moment is now.