On September 19, 2016, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) is implementing policies to regulate and support the manufacturing and street readiness of automated vehicles. This giant leap forward comes after several meetings with industry professionals, public input forums and consultations with tech companies. Called the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy, the 116-page plan offers four key points of focus and a 15-point safety assessment that gives guidelines for manufacturers to follow.
Unique preparation for a new world of automated vehicles
This forward movement on automated vehicles is new for government. Traditionally, regulations and auto legislation are put into effect after market penetration of a new technology. It is a reactive, not a proactive, process. The way the current policy is rolling out is very different and something DOT and federal lawmakers are specifically highlighting in their current announcement. The desire is to encourage and manage appropriate innovation in the automotive sector to ensure the technology is safe. And safety is the No. 1 reason for this collaborative effort between lawmakers and the automated vehicle community.
Last year, out of 35,200 car-related deaths, 94 percent were due to human error. As Secretary Foxx shares in his statement, “Automated vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives, driving the single biggest leap in road safety that our country has ever taken.”
Secretary Foxx goes on to add, “This policy is an unprecedented step by the federal government to harness the benefits of transformative technology by providing a framework for how to do it safely.” It is a framework that innovators can follow as they are in process, rather than having to backtrack to play catch-up.
President Obama weighed in on the federal government’s decision with an OpEd piece for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He touches on the issues of safety, but also on providing mobility for those who no longer have it. “And right now, for too many senior citizens and Americans with disabilities, driving isn’t an option. Automated vehicles could change their lives,” the president wrote.
A vision of tomorrow realized today
As President Obama points out, the technology and innovation behind automated vehicles have already gone from sci-fi fantasy to fast-moving reality. The potential benefits are huge, but so are the dangers if government doesn’t help mitigate those risks and support companies as they seek to eliminate them. However, the goal is not to over-regulate, but to work in tandem with these technological achievements. It is the reason why the policy is meant to be flexible and allow for growth as the industry grows and changes.
But as excited as the administration and DOT are about the potential of automated vehicles, the president is adamant about one thing, “And make no mistake: If a self-driving car isn’t safe, we have the authority to pull it off the road. We won’t hesitate to protect the American public’s safety.”
This solution is not set in stone quite yet. The public is encouraged to share whatever questions, concerns, comments, etc. it may have about the policy with the DOT over the next 60 days. In addition, President Obama is hosting the first White House Frontiers Conference on October 13 in Pittsburgh. It focuses on new technologies and how to implement these innovations to best serve the public. It is open to everyone to come and share, learn and discover together. The conference looks at how we, as a nation, can expand our scientific knowledge, what can we learn from the rest of the world and how we can all work together to make people’s lives better. The summit is concentrating on more than the next big thing. It’s also investigating what those inventions can do to make the world a better place.
With every new day, the future is getting closer. And as it does, so too is the realization that government support and involvement during the innovation process is key to true progress.